Vaccines have transformed how humans cope with childhood illnesses and epidemic diseases and have saved countless lives. But researchers are working harder than ever to develop new vaccines for some of the most challenging pathogens, like Ebola virus, HIV, and pneumococcus.
Insight Into Immunity
Unfortunately, researchers are faced with a worrisome quandary: Humans enrolled in clinical trials for vaccines can't be challenged with the pathogens of interest because they are so dangerous and potentially lethal. So how do researchers know they are on the right track? Flow cytometry is a powerful tool to gauge the immune response and decide if these vaccine candidates are working to provide immunity to infection. Animal studies and clinical trials are designed now to examine all aspects of the immune response following immunization, especially the development of pathogen-specific antibodies by B cells, and the differentiation of specialized T cell populations that provide long-term memory responses. Flow cytometry's impact is amplified through optimized panel design, which enables numerous aspects of the immune response to be measured simultaneously in one experiment. Julie Bick, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of FlowMetric Diagnostics, Inc. discussed the power of flow cytometry in a recent interview. “Optimized biomarker panels are able to clearly and robustly identify numerous, rare cell populations,” she said. These data can reveal important “correlates of immunity” that are boosted by vaccination, and empower scientists to make pivotal go/no go decisions about vaccine candidates.
Flexing Flow Cytometry's Power
Flow cytometry is infinitely adaptable and customizable for vaccine development: small volumes of whole blood samples can be used, high throughput approaches can be applied to large clinical studies during all phases of development, and profiles of numerous cell types with multiple surface markers can be measured simultaneously.
Facing the Future with Flow
Flow cytometry data not only informs critical vaccine development decisions, it gives researchers new insights into novel immune mechanisms along the way. A recent preliminary report measuring immune responses to an experimental Ebola vaccine in humans highlights the use of flow cytometry in vaccine development. It's hard to imagine the future of vaccine development without flow cytometry.