What resources are available for training in flow cytometry?
Clinical flow cytometry attracts life-long learners. There is always something new to learn, whether it's the principles of flow cytometry, or how to validate a new assay. Although in the past training was often done on the job, there are now many resources available.
Flow cytometry instrument and software vendors serve as an important resource. Vendors usually provide hands-on, product-specific training in order to teach flow cytometry Instrument operation, color compensation, sample acquisition and basic analysis. In addition, vendors may provide on-line resources and advanced training. I would highly recommend fully utilizing the vendor resources available to you, even if you're receiving mostly on-the-job training in order to avoid propagating lab-generated misconceptions.
Although vendor resources can help to get you started, I would recommend supplementing your knowledge with other resources. Vendors are not allowed to give you specific instructions on how to use their reagents in a clinical assay. For this, turn your focus outside your own lab, and see what others in the field as doing. Ask whether the data you are generating look like that produced in other labs. Start by sharing experiences at a local users group or reading articles published on cytometry in focused journals, such Cytometry Part B (Clinical Cytometry), or application-related journals, such as the American Journal of Clinical Cytometry. By doing this you will probably identify areas you need to improve, and can reach out to others for help. The International Clinical Cytometry Society (ICCS) provides open access Quality and Standards modules on their website. These modules contain information produced by experts in the field, with the goal of improving the quality of clinical flow cytometry. Other open access materials from ICCS include a Questions & Answers section, where you can browse questions by others, or submit your question to the experts. The Clinical Cytometry Education Network (CCEN) also has open access materials available online, including short videos and longer e-learning materials.
Joining a professional society will increase the resources available to you. An individual or laboratory membership to ICCS will give you access to educational videos, e-learning material, web presentations, and a quarterly newsletter that contains articles on clinical cytometry and case presentations. The International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC) also provides educational resources for members, but these often have less of a focus on clinical applications.
If you are able to travel, I would strongly recommend taking a course in cytometry and attending a society meeting. ICCS and the European Society for Clinical Cell Analysis (ESCCA) both offer courses and an annual meeting with a clinical focus. The ICCS course provides didactic material on all aspects of clinical flow cytometry, and audience participation through submitted questions and answers. It is a great way to get up to speed on the basics, get ideas about how to improve the quality of your current assays, and learn about new clinical applications. ICCS and ESCCA annual society meetings include plenary sessions about state-of-the art cytometry, and smaller group practical workshops. These courses and meetings also provide an opportunity to network, meet others working in similar labs, and identify collaborators and mentors.
Sometimes it is necessary to get additional hands-on flow cytometry training. CCEN offers hands-on courses in the U.S. and abroad, which provide small-group practical training on all aspects of clinical cytometry, from instrument set-up, panel design and validation, to analysis. If you can narrow the focus of the training, such as learning a particular new assay, it can be extremely valuable to spend time in another lab. CCEN offers a visitor training program that matches successful applicants with a mentor who can address a selected topic using the same instrument as the mentee.
Given the wide variety of resources available, it is important to start by considering which aspects of flow cytometry you are trying to learn, and why. The article below, by Bruce Greig and colleagues, discusses what type of information might be of interest to different individuals, depending on their level of responsibility. Are you a key operator, who might focus on learning the practical aspects of specimen setup, instrument operation and limited data analysis, or an interpreter who might need to be able to analyze data and interpret the results in conjunction with morphology, data from other ancillary studies and the clinical information? Is your goal to introduce a new assay, become a better cytometrist or obtain certification through the ASCP? Asking yourself these questions will help you identify the training that meets your needs.
Greig B, Oldaker T, Warzynski M, Wood B. 2006 Bethesda International Consensus recommendations on the immunophenotypic analysis of hematolymphoid neoplasia by flow cytometry: recommendations for training and education to perform clinical flow cytometry. Cytometry B Clin Cytom. 2007;72 Suppl 1:S23-33.