30 seconds to count all cells? Easy – with Scepter 3.0

Every day, scientists around the world carry out cell culture studies to advance biology and develop new medicines. Our portable handheld cell counter provides fast and reliable results to accelerate research.

Why research counts on tissue culture

First pioneered by Ross Harrison in 1907, growing human or animal cells under carefully controlled artificial conditions is now a fundamental tool in biomedical research [1]. Tissue culture  is now an invaluable research tool used across many fields, including disease modeling, stem cell and cancer research, regenerative medicine and drug discovery, as well as for monoclonal antibody and therapeutic protein production.  

A key step in many experimental workflows involves counting cells to work out their concentration in a culture.  

“A researcher may need to count cells to measure the effects of a potential treatment, or before carrying out an assay requiring a defined number of cells,” says Mahesh Dodla, product
manager for biomonitoring tools. “But the process is also essential for the everyday growth and maintenance of cell cultures.”  

For more than a century, cell biologists have traditionally relied on the manual process of hemocytometry to estimate the number of cells in a sample. More recently, automated cell  counters have helped to eliminate steps that are time-consuming and vulnerable to human error.  

Did you know?

  • 1907

    the first cell culture method was established [1].

  • 1950s

    the first Coulter counter was invented [2].

  • <30s

    to achieve accurate cell counts with the Scepter™ 3.0 handheld counter.

The opposite of handy: manual cell counting

The hemocytometer (or counting chamber) is a specially designed microscope slide with a visible grid etched into it. Researchers add their sample to the slide and then manually count the number of cells in a certain area of the grid, using this value to work out the concentration of cells in the culture. By adding a dye that is only taken up by dead cells, such as trypan blue, they can also calculate the proportion of live cells in the sample. 

While the method is still commonly used today hemocytometry is laborious, time-consuming and prone to errors. The sample will usually require dilution to make it feasible to count the cells, the volume of dye may vary, and it relies on visual counts and applying the right calculations. The best result is a good estimate. 

“The cell count could change from one person to another depending on their technique,” says Dodla. “And it’s also very slow, taking several minutes to count just one sample. If you have a 96-well plate, it will take a lot of time.”

Automatically better: the Coulter counter

Modern automated cell counting devices provide faster and more accurate readings than hemocytometry. Some devices analyze microscope images, or the scattering of light caused by cells in a sample, while impedance-based methods rely on the Coulter principle — named after Wallace H. Coulter who invented the technology in the early 1950s [2].  

“For more than 50 years, impedance-based measurements have been considered as the gold standard, the most accurate and precise technique for counting cells,” says Dodla.  

The Coulter counter is a sophisticated technology that uses voltage and electricity to count thousands of cells in a matter of seconds. A vacuum pump sucks the sample through an  electrically charged tube with a tiny hole at one end that’s flanked by two electrodes. As the cells pass one at a time through this hole, they interrupt the electrical field generated by the electrodes. A detector measures the number of times there is a change in impedance (or resistance), converting this into a cell count.  

Coulter counters can provide more precise cell counts than other devices and methods due to the much larger sample sizes they can analyze. The drawback, however, is that these  instruments are often large and stationary, taking up precious bench space in the laboratory.  

But that doesn’t have to be the case. 

Efficiency in your hands: Scepter™ 3.0

Our new Scepter™ 3.0 provides researchers with the benefits of the impedance-based method of cell counting and puts it into a handheld, portable device. 

“The Scepter™ 3.0 counter measures cells and delivers accurate and reliable cell counts in less than 30 seconds,” says Dodla. “As the device uses the Coulter principle, it gives the most precise and accurate results you can get.” 

The Scepter™ 3.0 counter is a portable device with a mobile charging station, helping to save bench space and improving laboratory workflow efficiency. 

“Using a hemocytometer or a stationary Coulter counter, the researcher will have to go back and forth to the microscope or the instrument several times,” explains Dodla. “But with the Scepter™ 3.0 instrument, they can just do the counting in the tissue culture hood, which is much easier.” 

By researchers, for researchers

To create the new Scepter™ 3.0 instrument, we started by gathering feedback from researchers using  the previous model to inform how we could improve upon its features and  ergonomics.  

“We didn’t just make tiny tweaks here and there, we have basically rebuilt the instrument,” says Dodla. “The Scepter™ 3.0 instrument mold is a completely new design and also has novel sensors.”

By making the display larger, it’s now much easier for the researcher to follow prompts and see their results. They can also export data from the instrument more easily via USB, or  wirelessly to a lab workstation — enabling reliable, consistent recording and archiving, and streamlining the data analysis process.  

“The new Scepter™ 3.0 instrument is the easiest way ever to count cells,” says Jacqueline Surtel, a cell biologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, USA. “It’s very easy to navigate — and for the modern world, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and printing features. I honestly love it.” 

It does the counting, so you can focus on the numbers

Advances in automated cell counting technologies are enabling researchers to count cells with greater speed, precision and convenience than ever before.  

“Counting cells using a hemocytometer is a laborious and repetitive process,” says Dodla. “I find it satisfying to look at workflow problems for the customer and find solutions that can help to make their research more efficient.”  

Reducing the burden of time-consuming everyday activities will allow researchers to focus on what matters most — making discoveries that will spark the development of new life-changing medicines for patients.  

Find out more about how the Scepter™ 3.0 handheld cell counter can help to accelerate research in your laboratory today.

In 2012, the United Nations set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that meet the urgent environmental, political and economic challenges facing our world. Three years later, these were adopted by all member states. We are committed that our work will help to achieve these ambitious targets. The Scepter™ 3.0 counter fits under ‘Goal 9 — Industries, innovation and infrastructure; Target 9.5 — Enhance scientific research.’ Developing new technologies that can improve research efficiency will help accelerate discoveries, ultimately helping to get more life-changing medicines to patients faster.

Learn more about SDGs

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