Compact Image-Based Cell Analyzers


September 17, 2018 -- At The Science Advisory Board, we have the opportunity to explore many different types of research technology on behalf of our scientific community. In this article we discuss the $50 million market for compact image-based cell analyzers. Broadly, cytometers refer to instruments that can measure various characteristics of cell populations in suspension. Depending on which and how many characteristics or parameters they address, these systems can be classified differently.

At one end of this spectrum are minimally configured cell counters, equipped with only one brightfield detection channel for cell counting and viability measurements. At the other end are flow cytometers, which can be loaded with an arsenal of modules, including a minimum of a dozen fluorescent detection channels, as well as cell sorting devices and concurrent microscopy capabilities.

Compact image-based cytometers or cell analyzers lie in the first category, with typically one to three fluorescent detection channels, in addition to a brightfield channel. Such cell analyzers can conduct fluorescent-based cellular assays to measure cell-cycle progression, signaling pathways and apoptosis, to name a few applications.

The systems’ small size, ease of use and affordability make them ideal for laboratories that want to measure more parameters than just the number of cells in their samples or make a more quantitative measurement, yet do not want to buy high-end cell analyzers or flow cytometers.

As mentioned earlier, the brightfield channel of these instruments acts as an automated image-based cell counter. The sample is first treated with a reagent like trypan blue to stain dead cells, but not live cells. Images taken using a CCD camera are analyzed to determine cell count and viability.

For other types of cell analysis, the cells first need to be labeled with fluorescent dyes or antibodies, binding only to specific components of interest, like caspases for apoptosis studies or EGFR for cell signaling studies. The labeled sample is then exposed to a specific fluorescent channel, and the emitted light is collected and analyzed. The presence of multiple fluorescent channels enables the instrument to measure different wavelengths, and therefore different parameters, at the same time.

In 2016, the total market for compact image-based cell analyzers amounted to approximately $50 million, and is forecasted to grow annually at around 5% this year. The growth is mainly driven by the cost and space saving potential of these systems, particularly in academia where laboratories have tight budgets, and the overall market strength of biomedical research in biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is the top supplier in the space, offering the Countess II FL product line. The Countess II FL has 1 brightfield and 2 user-definable fluorescent channels, and a 7 in. capacitive touchscreen. It only requires 10 µL of sample, and in order to analyze fluorescently labeled cells, needs to be supplemented with the EVOS light cube. In contrast to other image-based products, the Muse Cell Analyzer from MilliporeSigma utilizes a microcapillary flow-based technology for three-parameter analysis of cell populations in an 8 in. x 10 in. machine. Other notable products in this market are NucleoCounter product series from ChemoMetec, the Cellometer Auto 2000 and Cellometer Vision CBA from Nexcelom, and Arthur from NanoEnTek.

Do you use any of these tools or techniques in your research? What are your thoughts on the developments in these technologies? Join us on our forums for discussion!


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