Flow cytometry goes nano at the Faculty of Medicine

Photo of a flow cytometer

“We are the first lab to be able to clearly distinguish retroviruses and extracellular vesicles - the disease biomarkers of diabetes, cancer, and kidney, liver and other diseases.”

– Dr. Marc-André Langlois

Dr. Vera Tang* proudly shows off her lab’s flow cytometer, the birthplace of a new technology expected to lead to a new generation of cheaper and faster diagnostics of health disorders.

Flow cytometry is routinely used to diagnose health disorders by analyzing cells found in blood, tissues and organs.

“Until now, the process was limited to analyzing cells and particles over a certain size,” says Dr. Tang, a research associate, who with PhD student Tyler Renner and two others make up Dr. Marc-André Langlois’ team at the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology.

The group has developed a technology called nanoscale flow cytometry allowing for the analysis of extracellular vesicles, exosomes and viruses using flow cytometry. Their revolutionary work was published recently in Nature Scientific Reports.

“In flow cytometry, particles are characterized by comparing them to a standard, usually fluorescent synthetic beads,” Dr. Langlois says. “But, there are no appropriate standards for very small biological particles, or those in the 90-200 nanometer range.”

The team has developed new protocols and a nano-size standard based on an inactivated fluorescent viral particle, to act as an accurate and reliable tool to calibrate flow cytometers that are specially modified for small particle analyses. No such standard is currently available on the market.

“We are the first lab to be able to clearly distinguish retroviruses and extracellular vesicles - the disease biomarkers of diabetes, cancer, and kidney, liver and other diseases,” Dr. Langlois says. “By studying markers on the surface of HIV, we are also hopeful the technology will identify those cells in which the virus is hiding to avoid eradication.”

In addition to its uses in the diagnosis of disease, flow cytometry has many other applications in basic research, clinical practice and clinical trials.

“The instruments capable of nanoscale flow cytometry are already on the market and are affordable by most research units and hospitals,” says Dr. Langlois. “With appropriate reagents, standards and protocols in place, it could definitely lead to a new generation of faster and cheaper diagnostics.”

Read the paper in Nature Scientific Reports.

*Dr. Vera Tang, Flow Cytometry core manager and the Faculty’s local flow cytometry expert, was recently awarded high-level recognition from the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC) in being selected as a Shared Resource Lab Emerging Leader. Applicants, which included flow core managers from around the world, were required to demonstrate excellence in research, training/teaching and service in the field of flow cytometry. Dr. Tang’s important research in development of nanoscale flow cytometry, as well as her course teachings in flow cytometry and her leadership with training and project design to users of the Flow Cytometry core, were all contributors to her successful application.

ISAC’s members establish the international standards for flow cytometry. This prestigious recognition of Dr. Tang has put the Faculty on the map as an elite flow cytometry institution. Congratulations!

The Flow Cytometry core facility: One of 13 cores at the Faculty of Medicine

With support from affiliated hospital-based research institutes and the University of Ottawa, the Faculty has successfully developed a series of cutting-edge core facilities that bring together state-of-the-art equipment, instrumentation, methodologies and expertise crucial to the success of basic and clinical research activities. These facilities are accessible to all researchers across the University of Ottawa as well as to outside communities on a fee-for-service basis.

To date, 13 cores have been established and a few others are in the planning stages. For each facility, a director and user committees have been appointed to ensure accountability and optimal use for the continued commitment and success of our expanding core facilities.

Animal Behaviour: Dr. Diane Lagace
Genomics (StemCore): Dr. Michael Rudnicki
Bioinformatics: Dr. Theodore Perkins, Dr. Ilya Ioshikhes
Proteomics (StemCore): Dr. Marjorie Brand
Cell Biology and Image Acquisition: Dr. John Copeland
Human Pluripotent Stem Cells: Dr. William Stanford
Common Equipment and Technical Expertise: Dr. Laura Trinkle-Mulcahy
Histology: Dr. John Veinot
Containment Level 2/3: Dr. Marc-André Langlois
Preclinical Imaging: Dr. Frank J. Rybicki
Flow Cytometry: Dr. Marc-André Langlois
Proteomics: Dr. Daniel Figeys
Transgenic: Dr. David Lohnes

For more information, please visit Core Facilities website.


Photo credit: Dr. Marc-André Langlois lab

Vera Tang working on the flow cytometer in the lab.

New technology in flow cytometry developed by Dr. Vera Tang (pictured) and the rest of Dr. Marc-André Langlois’ team could mean faster and cheaper diagnostics.

Photo credit: Joanne Steventon


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