Manual Staining Vs Automatic Staining
Manual Vs Automatic processes are a widely discussed topic that gets us thinking “how can we do this quicker” or “how can I get the exact result I want”. We have all been there, wishing we had the machines to help do time-consuming tasks quicker and relieve us from the mundane repetition. However, we have also been the ones to turn around and say “I could have done it better myself” when we haven’t received the quality we had hoped for from a piece of equipment. So, we have decided to settle the debate between manual staining and automatic staining, outline the advantages and disadvantages of both options.
Automation is becoming a common replacement for more traditionally used manual staining processes, changing multiple steps during staining protocols to process large quantities of slides quicker. More commonly, machines are performing many routine procedures within the lab including Wright’s and H&E stains, freeing up the time of pathologists for more demanding procedures and increasing throughput.
With the rise in bone marrow studies, liver panels, GI biopsies to name a few, stains such as Trichrome, Reticulin, Steiner, etc., have become routine panels run daily, creating a demand for automation. The number of slides that can be processed within a set time has been proven to be substantially higher during automation than those stained manually; allowing pathologists to react to these increased demands. For example, the SLEE Cromatec Stainer can process up to 1,800 pieces per hour, streamlining the process of slide staining for lab that face high volumes or limited staffing resources.
Modern technology has enabled staining to be highly efficient. By eliminating personal variation, machines offer consistent techniques and settings to produce results that are less subject to inconsistencies that can occur with any manual process and can lead to improved results. For example, in the staining of direct smears for acid-fast bacilli by fluorescence microscopy, machine-stained smears are found to be freer of nonspecific background fluorescence and the smears were cleaner and easier to read. Thus, allowing cytopathologists to make quicker more accurate diagnosis from the clearer contrasts.[ J. clin. Path., 1976, 29, 931-933]
Automated staining equipment is also now designed with programmable settings and management systems that allow efficient operations in the lab, enabling multiple staining protocols to be processed simultaneously without supervision so that technicians can use their time effectively to further increase output. However, the benefits of using auto-stainers can be more than time saving and results. Manual staining of large quantities of slides is one of the most repetitive tasks performed in the laboratory. Lab technicians will benefit from reduced repetitive motion, bending, and twisting which are injuries caused by manual staining by making the switch to automation.
For some labs, automating processes can be a costly expense especially when they do not have the need or capital funds to support the cost of the equipment. That’s why manual staining is a viable option to achieve patient testing.
Manually staining slides allows pathologists to gain a full understanding of the principles and processes of each staining protocol. Technicians can use this knowledge to their advantage by controlling steps; making slight adjustments based on judgment and personal experience to achieve the desired outcome. When staining by hand you exert much more force dipping the slide into the reagent. The force can vary between each slide/rack and can enter the reagent from different angles subject to how the reagent looks. The extra force causes the reagent to bombard the slide, resulting in the tension of the reagent on the slide to break quicker than it would by a machine and then replaced by the next reagent. Manual staining also allows you to knock off reagent so less reagent clings to the slide, decreasing the consumption of costly reagents.
Automation has become a hurdle for histotechnologists who have developed special techniques to optimise the effectiveness of the stain in IHC staining and other staining protocols. When doing a manual stain, the technologist can observe and oversee each step; so that if something goes wrong, the procedure can often be stopped for correction at any point as opposed to troubleshooting at the end of the process, when it could be too late.
Furthermore, manual staining is not affected by limitations caused by space or technology. Manual Staining kits are usually compact and space-saving, allowing you to work from any area and catering to all lab sizes, big or small. This process is reliable for labs, avoiding the risk of downtime caused by repairs or maintenance, which could potentially cost the lab money and time. Without the space to accommodate manual staining sets or having the training in manual protocols as well, as a means of back up, labs could otherwise face delays and backlogs in their studies.
There’s a place in pathology labs for both manual and automatic staining. Which method or process which is adopted is down to personal preference and cost-efficiency. At Solmedia we understand every laboratory is different and every user is unique, therefore we cater to both manual and automatic stainers. For manual staining we have a space-saving compact set with 12x 300ml tanks, that resistant to acids and solvents and separate lids to cover. Alternatively, our partnership with SLEE Medical GmbH grants us UK exclusivity to supply their MAS Multi-Protocol Stainer with its additional options of drying station and coverslipper. Or their revolutionary new linear Cromatec stainer, which is unique to SLEE and offer the highest throughput in routine H&E staining, with continuous loading of baskets and individually programmable time settings for each station.
To find out more information about our Staining equipment for both manual and automated processes; speak to our team at +44 (0) 844 8080 900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Klemme, N. (2000). Caveat on Time Differences between Manual Staining and Machine Staining. Microscopy Today, 8(1), 29-29. doi:10.1017/S1551929500057199