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Too Many B Cells

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and the Role of Flow Cytometry


Debby Walser-Kuntz
Department of Biology
Carleton College


Taylor's doctor notices she has swollen lymph nodes and an elevated white blood cell count on her routine annual exam and asks her to return for a follow-up flow cytometry test to rule out chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Students follow along as Taylor learns more about the test and the disease. The case study outlines the process of flow cytometry, including light scatter, fluorophores, monoclonal antibodies, and fluorescence. Students are introduced to both histograms and dot plot displays and asked to interpret flow cytometry data. The questions included in the case ask students to apply the principles of flow cytometry. As part of that, students design a test that uses flow cytometry to detect a B cell clone (i.e., the CLL cancer), linking the flow cytometry principles back to Taylor. A histogram of the results of Taylor's blood test assesses student understanding of flow cytometry and leads students to make a diagnosis for Taylor. The case concludes with a discussion of Rituximab, one treatment for CLL. The case would be appropriate for use in immunology, cell biology, developmental biology, and genetics courses.

  • Explain the principle of flow cytometry.
  • Interpret flow cytometry data in the form of either histograms or dot plots.
  • Distinguish basic immune cell types based on size and granularity.
  • Design an experiment to quantify particular cell types in a sample using the appropriate antibodies to cell surface markers
Keywords: Flow cytometry; flow cytometer; fluorophores; fluorescence; B cells; chronic lymphocytic leukemia; CLL; lymphocytes; monoclonal antibody; immune system; immunology; Rituximab; histogram; dot plot; data analysis; experimental design
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Discussion, Journal Article
Language: English
Subject Headings: Cell Biology   Biology (General)   Molecular Biology   Medicine (General)   Genetics / Heredity  
Date Posted: 6/15/2011
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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