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Open Access Software

QUAliFiER: An automated pipeline for quality assessment of gated flow cytometry data

Greg Finak1, Wenxin Jiang1, Jorge Pardo2, Adam Asare2 and Raphael Gottardo13*

Author Affiliations

1 Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109, USA

2 Tolerance Assays and Data Analysis, the Immune Tolerance Network, University of California, San Francisco, 3 Bethesda Metro Center, Bethesda, 20814, MD, USA

3 Department of Statistics, University of Washington, Box 354322, Seattle, 98195, WA, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2012, 13:252  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-252

Published: 28 September 2012

Abstract

Background

Effective quality assessment is an important part of any high-throughput flow cytometry data analysis pipeline, especially when considering the complex designs of the typical flow experiments applied in clinical trials. Technical issues like instrument variation, problematic antibody staining, or reagent lot changes can lead to biases in the extracted cell subpopulation statistics. These biases can manifest themselves in non–obvious ways that can be difficult to detect without leveraging information about the study design or other experimental metadata. Consequently, a systematic and integrated approach to quality assessment of flow cytometry data is necessary to effectively identify technical errors that impact multiple samples over time. Gated cell populations and their statistics must be monitored within the context of the experimental run, assay, and the overall study.

Results

We have developed two new packages, flowWorkspace and QUAliFiER to construct a pipeline for quality assessment of gated flow cytometry data. flowWorkspace makes manually gated data accessible to BioConductor’s computational flow tools by importing pre–processed and gated data from the widely used manual gating tool, FlowJo (Tree Star Inc, Ashland OR). The QUAliFiER package takes advantage of the manual gates to perform an extensive series of statistical quality assessment checks on the gated cell sub–populations while taking into account the structure of the data and the study design to monitor the consistency of population statistics across staining panels, subject, aliquots, channels, or other experimental variables. QUAliFiER implements SVG–based interactive visualization methods, allowing investigators to examine quality assessment results across different views of the data, and it has a flexible interface allowing users to tailor quality checks and outlier detection routines to suit their data analysis needs.

Conclusion

We present a pipeline constructed from two new R packages for importing manually gated flow cytometry data and performing flexible and robust quality assessment checks. The pipeline addresses the increasing demand for tools capable of performing quality checks on large flow data sets generated in typical clinical trials. The QUAliFiER tool objectively, efficiently, and reproducibly identifies outlier samples in an automated manner by monitoring cell population statistics from gated or ungated flow data conditioned on experiment–level metadata.

Keywords:
Flow cytometry; Quality assessment; BioConductor package