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Flow cytometry is a process whereby biological components such as cells, antibodies or chromosomes are stirred into a liquid that and then funneled through a narrow point to allow for counting by computerized machinery that emits a laser. The amount of laser light absorbed or reflected is then measured to provide a laboratory test value. Clinical laboratory technicians and technologists undergo flow cytometry training as part of their educational preparation to work in their respective fields. Once considered an advanced skill, flow cytometry training is now becoming standard training for clinical and research laboratory technicians and technologists. Flow cytometry training involves operating and calibrating cytometers, staining biological materials with the appropriate fluorescent dyes and modifying them as necessary.
Laboratory flow cytometry training involves learning the three primary techniques by which hematology analyzers — machines that count blood cells and cell types — use to provide clinical laboratory results. The first type counts blood cells by what is known as the electrical impedance method in which certain cells interrupt an electrical signal as they pass through the "funnel." A second means of counting blood cells, the light scatter method measures the amount of laser light reflected from the stream of fluid and cells exiting the funnel. Finally, some tests are completed by treating the biological mix of cells and fluid with specific fluorescent dyes that are absorbed by only some cells and have no influence on others. Specific cells can be counted then by their reflection in the laser light.
In the US, a technologist's completion of a certificate, associate's degree or a bachelor's degree confirms at least a minimum amount of flow cytometry training. The higher the degree earned, the greater the student's exposure to both the practice and principles in the field. In addition to classes on laboratory safety principles, more highly educated laboratory technologists are also instructed in a great deal of anatomy and physiology with a special emphasis on the study of blood, or hematology. Topics in experimental design and quality control are also typically covered in classroom instruction with laboratory practice. Flow cytometry training also requires instruction in the theoretical principles behind the science.
The ultimate demonstration of flow cytometry training involves the successful completion of an international certification by examination — the International Cytometry Certification Examination™ — offered by The International Society for Advancement of Cytometry™ (ISAC) and the International Clinical Cytometry Society™ (ICCS). Successful completion of this examination results in the title of Certified Cytometrist™.