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NSF grant enables purchase of state-of-art flow cytometer

Equipment expands research and teaching capabilities

The Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering, College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) and College of Arts and Sciences have received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to purchase a state-of-the-art flow cytometer with cell-sorting capabilities.

The NSF awarded Ohio University $452,828 after a rigorous evaluative process in which only 10 to 15 percent of applicants received an award.

The only instrument of its kind in southeast Ohio, the flow cytometer will enable science and engineering students and researchers to look at the size, shape and molecular content of cells and then extract from large and diverse groups the specific type of cell(s) they would like to study.

The instrument, which can fit on a tabletop, will replace a 15-year-old model that has limited research and teaching capabilities. 

According to Doug Goetz, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Russ College and director of the university’s biomedical engineering program, the flow cytometer is a foundational technology in the field.

"All major biomedical companies and research universities have similar instruments," Goetz said. "Obtaining a state of the art flow cytometer allows us to train students on a technology they’ll use throughout their careers."

Fabian Benencia, assistant professor of immunology at OU-COM, said that the instrument will aid his research into tumor vaccines by allowing him to single out the type of blood cells that attack tumors the best and develop a vaccine that increases the number of those cells in the blood.

The instrument arrived the first of October, and is housed in the new Academic & Research Center (ARC), a facility used collaboratively by the Russ College and OU-COM. Goetz notes that attaining the NSF grant is a good example of the success that can be achieved when researchers, students and staff from several colleges work together.

"The NSF award is a tangible example of the synergistic activities among Russ College and OU-COM faculty members that is greatly facilitated by co-location in the ARC," Goetz said.

Monica Burdick, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Russ College, whose projects include research on cancer metastasis, said the extent to which the new flow cytometer is utilized will only continue to grow.

"For example, faculty members conducting research on biofuels might be able to use the instrument to identify strains of algae that produce the greatest quantity of useable fuel," Burdick said. 

The machine will also be adaptive, according to Burdick. As technologies advance, the instrument can be upgraded to meet growing and changing research needs.

In addition to having a direct influence on Ohio University, the cytometer also will be used by Hocking College, which has a two-year biotechnology program. Scientists from Diagnostic Hybrids, Inc. also will also use it to test samples locally instead of traveling to Columbus for testing.