New core lab enhances infectious disease research at KU

Peter McDonald, Flow Cytometry Core Lab manager.

LAWRENCE – A new core laboratory at the University of Kansas will enhance the speed, quantity and quality of research into infectious diseases, neurological disorders, cancer and immunology.

The Flow Cytometry Core Lab opens its services to KU and regional researchers Sept. 1. The lab includes three new instruments, which allow researchers to study individual cells within a liquid sample.

“The core is providing flow cytometry analysis and sorting services. Flow cytometry and sorting is a way of distinguishing and analyzing cells based on their size and granularity,” said Peter McDonald, Flow Cytometry Core Lab manager.

Flow cytometry works by funneling a liquid containing microbes — usually either a blood sample or solution of bacteria — through a tube thin enough to allow only a single cell to pass through at a time. Fluorescent dye that attaches to certain microbes is added to the liquid beforehand. A laser is beamed through the tube as the dyed microbes pass through it, and sensors surrounding the tube monitor the ways the laser reflects off the dyed microbes. This tells researchers the size, shape and quantity of microbes in the sample.

“A lot of different research labs have flow cytometer analyzers that are cheaper. What this core provides is a more expansive, full-spectrum or spectral flow cytometer and two sorters,” McDonald said.

Two of the three new instruments in the core lab have fluorescently activated cell sorting (FACS) capabilities. This means they can separate the different microbes after they pass through the tube, allowing researchers to experiment on just one bacteria or cell type in a sample. The other instrument, Cytek Aurora, cannot sort microbes from the sample but has more light-sensitive sensors.

“The major difference with the Cytek is that it has an expanded spectral capacity,” said Scott Hefty, professor and chair of molecular biosciences. “It just has a broader array of capabilities for analyzing spectral properties.”

Beyond enabling innovative research, having flow cytometry services is essential to keeping KU competitive with peer academic institutions. Robin Orozco, assistant professor of molecular biosciences and the scientific adviser for the new lab, uses the technique in much of her research. Hefty said having these services helps recruit and retain new faculty like Orozco.

“She's one of the junior investigators that, as we were attempting to recruit her, we saw this was an immediate need that we needed to address in order to enable her research, but there were so many others,” Hefty said. “We have two new faculty who have been here since January, and both of them are utilizing the flow facility as well.”

The core lab is currently expected to serve users from more than 20 labs, representing a half-dozen KU departments. Collaborative funding for the new instruments came from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, School of Pharmacy, Office of Research, Department of Molecular Biosciences, Chemical Biology of Infectious Disease and the University of Kansas Cancer Center. The Higuchi Biosciences Center also contributed to the acquisition prior to its restructuring.

The fee schedule has been announced for fiscal year 2023. Prospective users can contact McDonald for more information.  

Top photo: Peter McDonald, Flow Cytometry Core Lab manager.

Fri, 09/01/2023


Vince Munoz

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Vince Munoz

Office of Research