I did my PhD in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London. My research focused on mathematical modeling of the cell cycle in leukemia and involved experiments with cell lines. During that time, I had to count cells with a hemocytometer so often to track growth that I got tired and decided to build an app, HemocyTap, and share my knowledge on the topic here to help as many people as possible.

Automated cell counters have been around for some time now, both in biological research labs and medical test/research centers. It is indeed a timesaving tool for researchers and professionals of the medical sector alike. But the hands-on approach of the manual counting of cells using a hemocytometer seems to still win the battle. What are the reasons for this?

Automated cell counters rely on different principles depending on the type: some use impedance, which varies when a cell passes through the electrical path, while others feature a light source in the form of a laser, which is directed to the cell suspension flow and detected on the other side of the tubing (until a cell crosses and is therefore counted). Automated cell counters can also use both to provide an enhanced accuracy on the reading.

There are also disadvantages to the manual cell counting with a hemocytometer, mainly in terms of manipulation errors (improper mix) and human sampling errors (over-counting or under-counting of specific cell types or in specific areas). But this can also be an advantage. Why? Researchers taking care of cell cultures need to keep track of what is happening in there. If they actually proceed with the cell count themselves, they get to analyze visually the cell sthey count, and any anomaly can be detected sooner rather than later. It is also important for newer member of the research team to familiarize themselves with the traditional techniques and the cell morphology, as this usually determines the healthiness of a cell culture.

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