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New device identifies immune cells at an unprecedented level of detail, inside and out

Garry Nolan.jpg

A new technology developed with the help of Stanford immunologist Garry Nolan, PhD, could help accelerate cancer and immune system research. The instrument improves upon a cornerstone method in immune research that catalogs and counts large numbers of cells according to the proteins they specialize in producing.

By swapping rare-earth metals like neodymium with the fluorescent dyes usually used, the new approach provides a big leap in the number of ways cells can be sorted the new approach provides a big leap in the number of subtypes and activation states of cells can be indentified simultaneously. The method also provides a much more detailed look at the interior of cells, providing even more ways to distinguish cell types. From our release:

In [a study appearing in Science], Nolan and his colleagues simultaneously monitored 34 different substances found inside and on the surface of different cell types produced in human bone marrow, the place where all immune and blood cells, as well as blood disorders such as leukemia, originate.

By measuring large numbers of cell features all at once with the new technology - called mass cytometry - the team could capture subtle transitions between cell states in, essentially, a high-resolution snapshot of the entire blood-forming system, he said.


“In essence,” said Nolan, “we are interviewing or interrogating the cells, forcing them to reveal their inner thought processes.”

Photo of the mass cytometer and Garry Nolan by Norbert von der Groeben

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