The Rise of Flow Cytometry

Flow cytometry is a technique enabling the measurement of cells or cell components as they travel via a fluid suspension that passes through a beam of light. According to two recent market reports, the global market for flow cytometry was just over $3 billion in 2012. These reports predict growth to $5.7 billion in 2018 (1) and $6.5 billion in 2020 (2), making flow cytometry one of the fastest growing areas in the life science industry. Below are some reasons for this increase, as well as other interesting facts about flow cytometry.

  1. The inventor of flow cytometry provides significant grant funding. Flow cytometry has been around for a long time; the first U.S. patent relating to the technique was issued in 1953 to Wallace H. Coulter (3). Yes, this is the famous inventor who developed the Coulter Counter and started the Coulter Company, acquired by Beckman in 1997 – now Beckman Coulter (4). To date, the Wallace H. Coulter Foundationhas given more than $26 million in grant funding to scientists (5).
  1. DNA flow cytometry shows promise to play a role in disease diagnosis and treatment. DNA flow cytometry involves isolating nuclei and staining the DNA with a fluorophore that can be excited by the light beam of the cytometer. The amount of DNA is then quantitatively calculated and each cell’s stage of division can be determined. Research using this process has established a correlation between DNA ploidy and survival in cancer patients; Thornthwaite et al. found a higher percentage of diploid nuclei in benign ovarian tumors and increased hypoploid, multiploid and hypertetraploid nuclei in more aggressive tumors (6).
  1. Flow cytometry has a variety of viral-related applications. Titers of retroviral vectors can be assessed using flow cytometry and retroviral antibody markers. During retroviral research using VSV (vesicular stomatitis virus), antibodies to cell surface markers such as the retroviral cell envelope protein, VSV-G, can identify packaged viral particles and separate them. In addition, VSV with viral matrix protein mutants has recently been shown as an efficient viral vector for vaccine research (7). Flow cytometry is also used for analysis of CD4 T lymphocytes during HIV infection (8).
  1. New reagents and equipment have enabled more efficient research. Multi-channel flow cytometers, now available from a wide range of manufacturers, contain multiple lasers able to detect more than a dozen parameters at a time. The amount of data resulting from these analyses is helping fuel growth of the industry. Additionally, more sensitive and efficient kits and reagents are streamlining the process. For example, Kerafast offers several materials developed by the laboratory of Jerry T. Thornthwaite at the Cancer Research Institute of West Tennessee to simplify the flow cytometry analysis of DNA: a ready-to-use cell viability stain for rapid, one-step staining of dead cells, a nuclear isolation medium for isolating intact nuclei from cells and various tissues, and a nontoxic trout red blood cell (TRBC)-based DNA standard optimized for flow cytometry.
  1. The list of applications and measurable parameters using flow cytometry is long. The sheer number of applications for flow cytometry is huge; it’s no wonder the market is so large! This list is by no means exhaustive, but applications for the technique include: cell volume, analysis of cell pigment, total DNA, cell cycle, ploidy, total RNA, protein expression, protein localization, protein modification, transgenic products (especially using GFP), cell surface antigens, membrane potentials, membrane fluidity, DNA degradation, cell viability, multi-drug resistance, cell adherence and many more.


  1. October 2013. Flow Cytometry: Products, Technologies and Global Markets. BCC Research.
  2. December 2013. Flow Cytometry Market (Products, Application, Technology, and Users) – Current Trends, Opportunities, Industry Analysis, Size, Share and Global Forecast, 2012-2020. Allied Market Research.
  3. S. Patent 2,656,508
  6. Jerry T. Thornthwaite, J. Clint Stanfill and Ahmed S. Ahmed. Comparison of clinical staging of benign and malignant ovarian tissues with DNA flow cytometry. Journal of Solid Tumors. 3(5): 12-24.
  7. For a list of references:
  8. June 2007. Laboratory Guidelines for enumerating CD4 T Lymphocytes in the context of HIV/AIDS. World Health Organization.