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Spectral cytometry, from PlayStation to “future strategy”

In 1995, months after the debut of the PlayStation in Japan, Sony launched the video game console in the United States and Europe. It was an immediate success. The company sold more than 104 million units over the next decade, clearly outperforming its closest competitor, the Sega Saturn. With the PlayStation, games like Gran Turismo, Metal Gear or Final Fantasyentered video game history.

What is less known about that period is that, at the same time it was marketing the PlayStation, Sony also began a biotechnology business venture. Sony Biotechnology was created with the mission to grow in that emerging industry. The success of the video game console followed a path parallel to that of the biotechnology market, which earned its place in the world economy, taking root in regions like Catalonia. Now, almost twenty years on, the company is presenting a new technology, known as spectral cytometry, which is an intriguing result ofR&D&I applied to technology already existing in the PlayStation.

“It’s a strategic wager for the future,” says Òscar Fornas, head of the Flow Cytometry Unit of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG). His group has one of Spain’s two spectral cytometers. The other unit is at the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC). Only four or five institutions throughout Europe possess this technology. There are even fewer in the United States. It is a truly novel tool. Therefore, there are few published studies based on spectral cytometry, a technique Fornas describes as “very promising”.

Spectral cytometer Source: Sony Biotechnology

Sony used the PlayStation Blu-Ray system to adjust the laser, an ingenious way to control its focus. The arrival of the spectral cytometer opens a new era in flow cytometry. “It has spectral detectors, similar to what you’d find in confocal microscopy,” says the specialist in remarks to Biocores. Thanks to this new methodology, the whole spectrum of each particle, from ultraviolet to infrared, can be detected. “It gives us a great deal of information and details on the fluorescence emission,” says Fornas.

In conventional flow cytometry, light is classified and filtered for every detector. There, the spectra of the different fluorochromes can overlap. However, thanks to the characteristics of the spectral cytometer, it will be possible to simultaneously discriminate between the spectrum of GFP and that of YGP, to mention one example, as the emission of both can be discerned without them overlapping. For this reason, Fornas considers that spectral cytometryhas “very high analytical capacities”, as it is capable of using up to 32 different parameters. He believes that this type of cytometry could be used in the multiparameter studies necessary in immunology or research related with marine biology and microbiology. “We can see and supervise the quality of our rivers, or tap water, or identify and analyze a cell’s pigments,” he claims.

The advantages of this new technology are numerous. The only drawback detected up to the present is that there is no separation system, or sorter, that can be applied to this type of scientific project. Fornas regrets that, “If we find cells or an expression different from what is observed in traditional flow cytometry, we can’t separate it,” Nonetheless, rapid advancements in research could help overcome that challenge in the short or mid-term. The new generation of cytometers, developed 10 years ago by scientists at Stanford University, has become a reality thanks to the implementation of specific software by Sony Biotechnology. The development accomplished by this innovative company, in which PlayStation played a role unknown up to now, has enabled significant progress, which Fornas and the UPF-CRG Flow Cytometry Unit are already putting to good use.