There are many factors which make microtomists fearful of the automated microtome. We are told time and time again that there is a fear of losing control; that automation will prevent the intuitive skills developed over often years of practice from being fully expressed. Even more worrying is the belief that in some way an automated microtome could override the work of the technician and ‘swallow’ whole samples, running away with the sectioning process and destroying precious samples in its wake. Other specialists feel that after years of developing their skills, they will always be faster and more efficient on a manual machine.
We’d like to de-bunk the myths (!) because automated microtomes were not developed in order to frustrate the microtomist. Quite the opposite: they are there to make their day-to-day routine easier and more productive.
To take a few steps back, it is worth reviewing how the manual microtome works. If you can remember how you felt when you first used the machine, it may help you to realise how relatively awkward the whole process is. The repetitive use of both hands, working in a counter-intuitive way, is difficult to learn and also gives rise to a high risk of strain, particularly over many years’ use.
Already, imagine how much easier it would have been to have learned your skill if you had only had to work the right handwheel, whilst the chuck automatically moved inwards as the section was cut. Your left hand would then have been free to tend to the ribboning and check the quality…
…Welcome to the semi-automatic microtome.
In many ways, this microtome will suit those who have used a manual microtome over many years. The machine simply allows you to free-up your left hand and concentrate instead on the sectioning speed and ribbon quality. The chuck moves automatically to a pre-set thickness on each turn of the handwheel.
The fully-automated version allows you to go a step further. On this machine, it is possible use a simple dial (or sometimes a foot pedal) to regulate the speed of the section cutting. So, for example, it would be possible to trim a block by pre-selecting the thickness and using the electronic dial to regulate the speed. This process could be repeated for a batch of blocks, which would then be transferred to a cooling plate before the fine sectioning began. On the Galileo Pro Configuration model, it is possible to scan cassettes so that the machine automatically realigns itself to the ideal position for that particular block’s cutting face. Even without this feature, the time saved in trimming and the strain of the repeated use of the handwheel have been greatly reduced.
Once sectioning starts, the operator can choose various options. On the Galileo version, there is a foot pedal, which allows the operator to section at their own speed, whilst their hands remain free to tend to the cut sections. Alternatively, they can operate the dial system, or opt for the handwheel if that is their preference.
By choosing the fully-automatic, the microtomist has all the tools at their disposal and can operate the machine in the way that best adapts to their operating style. From a laboratory perspective, it is the ideal way to future proof your lab.
It’s important to remember that a microtomist’s skills are incredibly important to the histology process. They are also keenly needed, with forecasts predicting that there will be a 2% increase in demand within the next five years. With greater laboratory pressures on turnaround times and budgets, they will inevitably be under greater pressure over time to produce more sections in a shorter timeframe. Set this against the rising incidence of RSI and other strain related conditions and the semi and fully-automated microtomes might be seen in a more positive light.
If you’re still unsure, trialling the equipment can provide the perfect solution. Why not ask your lab manager to book your free demonstration and trial the Galileo in your lab?