Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Cytometrist's Mobile Toolbox

It's no secret technology continues to poke its nosy body into every part of our lives.  But it's also surprising that we who work in the labs don't utilize it to its fullest potential.  For example, up until recently, I would time my incubations by writing down on a scrap piece of paper what time (of day) the incubation was to end.  I'd invariably lose the piece of paper and end up guessing how long it's been.  This scenario plays itself over and over in various forms, which lead me to exclaim, there's got to be a better way.

So, whenever we're faced with a problem/question these days, where do we turn?  Well, an app store, of course.  Here, we'll outline a group of tools found on our phones/tablets/computers that can help working in a lab, especially in regards to flow cytometry applications, easier.  Quick Disclaimer:  I use an Android phone, so most of my hands on experience comes from those apps.  iOS apps were found by searching the app store for apps with similar features.

We call this our Cytometrist's Mobile Toolbox

StopWatch&Timer+
1.  Timer.  Running experiments always requires a good timer.  Fortunately there are some really good apps for timing your incubations.  My favorite one from the Android Market is called StopWatch&Timer+ (sportstracklive.com).  You can have many timers going at the same time with different alarms, and you can label them so you can easily go back to them for repeat incubations.  You can also set timers up to 99:59:59, so you can cover your multi-day incubations.  A comparable entry on the iOS App store is Timer+.  It has a similar feature set except it only times up to 24 hours on a single timer.

2.  Calculator.  Sure, the stock calculator can handle most of the math you're going to run into day-to-day. However, the thing we probably do most is making dilutions, so it doesn't hurt to have a handy tool to do some quick dilutions and save you from making a stupid mistake.  Most of the calculators you'll run into on the Android Market or the iOS App Store are built around chemistry applications, so you'll just have to train yourself to mentally substitute micrograms for micromolar as units.  But other than that, they work well.  There are some apps that have a group of tools (including some from BioLegend and LifeTechnologies, which I'll talk about below) which just makes it too crowded and requires lots of clicks (or touches, I should say), but on the Android platform, I use AgileSciTools with pretty good success.  It actually does cell concentrations as well as stock dilutions (again using the mole base unit).  A similar tool on iOS is DailyCalcs (Invitrogen).

Dilution Calculator
3.  Fluorescence Spectrum Resources.  Today, spectrum viewers are a dime/dozen, so it's no surprise that these are pretty easy to find.  However, most of them exist as computer resource intensive web applications that aren't well-suited for viewing on a phone/tablet.  In fact, there currently is no native android app that does a spectrum viewer like you'd expect from the various web site ones.  Closest I've found is the Cytometry app from Invitrogen.  This doesn't have a spectra viewer, but it does at least list the ex/em of the various fluors they refer to.  On the iOS platform, there is a full-fledged spectra viewer from Invitrogen.  So, if you're an Android user, you'll be better off using the various desktop apps.  For a complete list of available desktop spectra viewers, you can visit the Chromocyte web site.

LifeTechnologies Cytometry App
4.  Antibody resource.  Sometimes when you're in the thick of it, you may want to get some info on a related antibody or reagent.  Fortunately, this can be done with a few clicks on your favorite mobile device.  BioLegend has a nice resource for looking up CD markers on both the Android and iOS platforms.  Invitrogen's Cytometry app is also available on Android and iOS.

5.  Protocols.  Unsure of the protocol you're working on?  Would you like to cross-reference another protocol, or even see some of the steps performed on video?  Well, you're probably familiar with JoVE, the online Journal of Visualized Experiments; a growing resource online.  The only problem is that don't have an app yet (not sure why???).  An alternative that does have an app is Benchfly (Android only).  However, as of this writing, there's not much flow cytometry related material there, although there are other related and useful videos ready-to-go.  However, the place I start many times when specifically looking for video is YouTube.  There are hundreds of videos relating to many aspects of flow cytometry, and it is certainly available on any mobile device of choice.  Also, the aforementioned BioLegend and LifeTechnologies apps have protocols built-in, using their products.  Of special note is the LifeTechnologies app that actually has incubation timers inline with the protocol...pretty nice implementation.

Lastly, if you're looking for other tools, whether they be on the desktop of for your mobile device, you can consult the following links to some useful tools.
BioLegend Web Tools Page

BD tools,
LifeTechologies tools
BioLegend Tools
Sony i-Cyt tools
Chromocyte tools
eBioscience tools



So, there you have it.  Hopefully this will help you perform your experiments with greater accuracy (i.e. fewer mistakes) and efficiency.  Do you have a favorite app you use to help expedite your experiments?  Go ahead and leave your favs in the comments.