Laboratory Products

Automated Cell Counting Shouldn’t Cost the Earth

Apr 17 2020

Author: Alexander Wright, Leeds University, Malcolm Lee, Swift Analytical, Ahmet Imrali, Imrali Inventions, Colleen Holgate, Scientific Laboratory Supplies on behalf of Scientific Laboratory Supplies Ltd

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Scientific Laboratory supplies (SLS) are adding to their environmentally friendly portfolio as they recognise that sustainability is now a major driving force in most laboratories and all scientists are looking for ways to minimise their environmental impact as well as reducing cost per analysis. One area where this is particularly pertinent is automated cell counting, where the need to reduce wastage of single-use plastic slides is of significant economic and environmental concern.

Over the last 20 years the scale of global scientific research has increased exponentially, leading to massive increases in cost, both financial and environmental [1,2]. This has stretched budgets and limited the scope of countless studies and so it is becoming increasingly important to streamline high-throughput procedures to minimise waste and reduce expenditure.
Automated cell counting is a powerful tool used in cell biology, yet is very inefficient when it comes to sample handling. Some new, slide-free cell counting platforms have recently been developed, but these systems are substantially more expensive than slide-only systems, and still require manual cleaning of the sample pedestal or the re-useable glass slides. This new platform also exposes the user to biohazardous waste material during cleaning and generates solid biohazardous waste such as contaminated tissue paper as a result of manual cleaning. Switching to slide free technology is a costly option plus it is potentially disruptive as users adjust to the new system. Therefore, most laboratories would prefer to continue to use their present cell counters for consistency of operation and analysis while improving sustainability.  As a direct result of market feedback the iWash™ slide cleaner has been developed so that slides which are normally disposed of after a single measurement may be reused time and time again without compromising data quality. It is also useful to note that a general consensus now exists amongst cell counter users that a certain percentage of new slides exhibit contamination which would render them inaccurate. For this reason, it is advisable to clean slides before use, making the iWash™ a crucial tool in minimising erroneous counts due to manufacturing contamination.
High-accuracy cell counting procedures underpin a huge variety of studies, both in academic and industrial settings. For example, all studies into cancer therapies require extensive culture-based efficacy tests, where the effectiveness of a drug is assessed by a live/dead cell count. This count is now carried out in an automated fashion by a range of cell counter systems. Most automated cell counters operate in a similar fashion; a sample is placed on a plastic slide before being inserted into the counting instrument, the samples are measured after which the slide is disposed of and incinerated. Whilst prices can vary, the usual cost per slide is £1 across all platforms. A statistically significant study capable of passing both academic and industrial scrutiny will require several hundred measurements, with individual labs performing dozens of studies a year. This highlights how the aggregate cost of slides may reach several thousand pounds a year before you include logistics and disposal costs.
In addition to the financial cost of single-use slides, the environmental cost of plastic slide manufacture, shipping, and disposal creates a significant carbon footprint together with potential micro plastic pollution [2,3]. As the public and government push all industries towards greener operational procedures, the recycling and re-use of previously disposable laboratory materials and equipment is a key consideration for a sustainable future [4].

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