Flow cytometry is one of the most highly skilled analytical techniques ever invented by man; its flexibility and power remain unsurpassed and its role is not diminished by the increasing importance of other methodologies, which, far from competing with it, complement it in basic and diagnostic applications.
Based on a very simple idea – the “per event” analysis of a mono-dispersed population of cells (but also of organelles, bacteria, viruses, liposomes, micro-beads, and other natural or artificial microstructures) – flow cytometry’s strength lies in its ability to analyse and present the distribution of the parameters under study thus opening the way to their multivariate analysis.
From a practical point of view, this capability enables populations of events featuring the most difficult analytical conditions, such as high heterogeneity, parameter co-expression and substantial differences in their frequency in the sample, to be studied.
Most important of all, thanks to its marriage with computer science, flow cytometry is a technique that can translate the results of an analytical run into a digital dataset that can be used with computer software capable of performing the most diverse tasks, from data mining to graphic modelling. As an example, a multivariate analysis of a sample of peripheral blood can generate graphical maps that can lead to a suggested diagnosis in the same way that image-driven diagnosis is performed in diagnostic radiology.
For all these reasons flow cytometry can be seen as an essential tool in biology, pathology and medicine, but, above all, as one of the most important instrument in cytomics.