17 February 2011
If you have ever tried to hunt out the few remaining black jellybeans in the pick & mix confectionery bin, or chased that elusive single cherry around the large tin of fruit salad, then you have just an inkling of the patience required to be a flow cytometrist.
For Malaghan Flow Cytometry Manager, Kylie Price, searching for a single cancer cell or immune cell in a sample containing millions of other cells is just one of the challenges that she faces daily - and she wouldn't have it any other way.
Her long hours and hard work have been recognised by the Hugh Green Foundation (formerly the Hugh Green Charitable Trust), which has made a generous donation to support her work and the pivotal role that the Flow Cytometry Suite has in the research undertaken at the Malaghan Institute.
So what exactly is flow cytometry and how does it work? Essentially a flow cytometer uses lasers to activate fluorescent dyes that have been deliberately attached to cells of interest via an antibody specific to that type of cell. "Unlike jellybeans or cherries" says Kylie, "cells cannot be distinguished by the naked eye, so dyes are used to help the flow cytometrist see' the cells they are interested in. These cells can then be separated from all the others so they can be studied further".
Kylie, with her new title of Hugh Green Flow Cytometry Fellow, explains that the application of this technology is immense. "For instance, there is new understanding that when a cancer-killing immune cell goes inside the tumour mass the tumour itself produces chemicals that act to slow down the cancer-killing cell. Flow cytometry enables us to purify this immune cell and to determine what type of stimulus is needed to wake it up and re-instigate the cancer-killing activity".
The level of detail and knowledge required today in immunology research would not be possible without the availability of a Flow Cytometry Suite and Kylie's expertise. The Malaghan, as New Zealand's leading independent medical research facility with programmes focused on treatments and cures for cancer, asthma, arthritis, MS and infectious diseases, is proud to host the busiest flow cytometry facility in the country and provides access to state-of-the-art equipment unavailable elsewhere in Australasia.
The Hugh Green donation is the "cherry on the top" that will ensure that the suite will continue to operate under Kylie's watchful eye for the benefit of all the Malaghan scientists.
Photo caption: Hugh Green pictured with Malaghan Flow Cytometry Manager Kylie Price.