What's in Your #MedTechToolbox?: The Cell Counter

HealthcareJanuary 12, 2014

The Med Tech toolbox consists of all the tools that a medical technician may use. The cell counter is a key piece of equipment that is often used in many of the life sciences. Cell counters are not necessarily a single piece of equipment, but in some cases, a process requiring several pieces of equipment. An organization has to weigh the importance of funds, time and working environment. Some of these purposes may be beyond the scope of medical technicians; however, it is a very important tool that may be used on an everyday basis.

Cell Counting

In most cases, cell counting is performed to find the concentration of a certain cell type. The concentration will be X-number of thousands of a particular cell per milliliter. This can help to determine, for example, the number of red cells, white cells or platelets. Each of these cells has their purpose. Red blood cells transfer oxygen through the body, white blood cells help to thwart infection and platelets aid in blood clotting. A complete blood count (CBC) is often performed early in the diagnosis process, and if any of these values are low, it gives the doctor an immediate direction toward treatment.

Types of Cell Counting

Cell counting can be performed manually or automatically with different types of equipment. About 80 percent of CBCs are performed automatically; however, there are still cases that require a manual CBC. When cells are irregular, a manual CBC may be needed. Blood is diluted manually because there are too many cells for the human eye to count. However, this also creates a problem. By diluting the blood, fewer cells are viewed, so less information can be gained from the sample, and there is a greater risk of error.

The main methods of counting cells are plating (which is also called colony-forming unit (CFU), but is mainly used in biology), spectrophotometry, image analysis, flow cytometry, electrical resistance via a Coulter counter, and using a counting chamber, or hemocytometer. Some of these methods are considered primitive, and others are very expensive to perform. The method a med tech would use the most depends on the resources of the laboratory in which he or she works.

According to Bio-Rad, the hemocytometer has been around for over a hundred years, and it is the tool of choice by many institutions when performing a manual CBC. Automated cell counters are much quicker (they are able to perform several tests within 30 seconds), and generally the data is more accurate. Whatever type of cell counter the med tech uses, they will find the results to be similar. It is a matter of learning the specific protocols associated with the workplace and the area in which they are working.

Photo Source: Flickr


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