METM23 presentation

The immune system: get your FACS straight

Maighread Gallagher-Gambarelli, Grenoble, France

Given the importance of diseases, viruses, and the immune system to society as a whole and to language professionals working within the health sciences, I will review the related terminology and one of the main tools used by immunologists to explore this complex and expanding field.

The immune system is made up of multiple cell types, all developing from a common precursor in the bone marrow – the elusive haematopoietic stem cell. From this, our bodies derive all the cell types in the innate and adaptive immune systems: B cells, T cells, macrophages, eosinophils, natural killer cells, dendritic cells and more. Each class of cells plays a unique role, with killers, antigen presenters and memory cells working together. Which of them is more important is a source of constant – not to say heated – debate. Nevertheless, everyone will agree that the sheer number of individual types is daunting and finer-grained divisions are constantly emerging.

A key tool in the search for new cell types is fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) and the related flow cytometry. This technology emerged in the 1970s and has constantly evolved since; immunologists use it almost daily. Because it serves many fields, the terminology has crossed over into medical discourse in many specialties. Together, we will review the vocabulary related to cell labelling and sorting.

This talk should suit anyone who wants to find out more about the immune system or has ever wondered what distinguishes positive from negative sorting, why researchers (should) always mention an isotype control, and how to tell a primary from a secondary antibody. We will also take a look at the mechanics of flow cytometry and cell sorting.
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About the presenter

Maighread Gallagher-Gambarelli completed her PhD in immunology in France and subsequently worked and published in research in the UK and France for a number of years. In 2009, she abandoned the lab bench to set up as a freelance translator and editor specialising in research papers. She has since helped with the publication of over 300 articles in a range of scientific fields but still gets a thrill when the topic is immunology.