Cytogenetic technologists are laboratory specialists who study normal and abnormal chromosomes in cells, and their relationship to disease and human development. These include birth defects, fertility problems and blood disorders.
They examine the chromosomes in blood, amniotic fluid, bone marrow, tumours and placentas, using slide preparations and tissue cultures. Cytogenetic technologists use karyotyping and fluorescent-labelled DNA to detect gene and chromosome abnormalities. (A karyotype is a chart of stained chromosomes arranged in order of size that physicians use to compare and look at the differences in normal and abnormal chromosomes.)
They select and prepare specimens and grow the tissue in an appropriate culture medium for the cells’ nutritional requirements, using aseptic techniques. Cells are harvested using substances such as mitotic arrestants, cell releasing agents and cell fixatives. Slides are prepared and stained to make the chromosomes visible for microscopy, and banding methods selected to permit identification of chromosome pairs. The material will then be viewed using light microscopes, photomicroscopes or other medical imaging tools, so that any structural abnormalities can be identified. Chromosome images are created using computer imaging systems. They need to recognise and report abnormalities in the colour, size, shape, composition or pattern of the cells. The test results are summarised and the report submitted to the appropriate authorities.
As part of the daily requirements for the job, the cytogenetic technologist must know how to harvest and culture living cells, understand chromosomal morphology, chromosomal analysis, and be familiar with the more than 20 different methods for visualising chromosomes. They must keep meticulous records in order to communicate effectively with physicians and family members, as well as researchers who request technical information or test results.
Cytogenetic technologists also need to develop and implement training programmes for trainees, medical students and resident physicians and feed details of the specimens into logs or computer systems. They must also maintain laboratory equipment such as photomicroscopes, inverted microscopes and standard darkroom equipment, as well as supervise subordinate laboratory staff.
Continued population growth and advances in medical technology are factors that increase the need for cytogenetic technologists, so that the demand for occupations in this field is expected to increase rapidly.
Schooling & School Subjects
National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
Each institution has its own entry requirements
A bachelor degree in cytogenetic technology, biotechnology, biology or related science at an accredited university is the minimum requirement for an entry-level position in this field.
After earning a bachelor degree, most candidates enter a post-graduate programme in cytogenetic technology.
An MSc in cytogenetic technology can lead to a post as a laboratory manager or supervisor, or as a genetic counsellor or research associate in a corporate laboratory. MSc curricula include management classes and training in supervision and research techniques.
Please refer to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) website for information regarding acredited courses and detailed training requirements.
The Society of Medical Laboratory Technologists of South Africa
P O Box 6014
Tel. (021) 419-4857
Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
P O Box 205, Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 338-9300
Fax: (012) 328-5120