Whilst almost every sample in the histology laboratory will go through the routine hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) staining process in order to reveal the underlying tissue structures, some samples will need further investigation – or for different characteristics or abnormalities to be revealed. In these instances, particular staining processes will be employed, and they are very often referred to as ‘special’ stains.
For the technician, special stains present certain challenges. Unlike H&E staining, where bulk samples allow for the staining process to be almost completely automated, in the majority of cases, special stains need to be handled in smaller quantities and are therefore frequently performed manually. They employ a number of different stains and very often require a series of reagents to be used as part of a carefully coordinated and timed protocol. In practical terms, this can mean that the technician is required to manually time the dipping and withdrawal of slides over a sequenced period, which can be time consuming, complicated and awkward to undertake.
It is possible to reduce the hassle in some ways. Although some technicians prefer to prepare their own stains (and there are a wide variety of dry dyes and mixtures that allow that to be done), there are also staining kits available that provide the chemicals and stains that are needed to fulfil the vast majority of special stains processes. This simply cuts down on the time needed to prepare solutions and also ensures a level of consistency in the results which, in turn, aids validation.
In addition, there are one or two companies that have also introduced automated Special Stainers. At Solmedia, we have ‘Tiziano’, which allows for slides to be automatically dipped into 7 reservoirs of reagents and stains in order to meet even the most complicated protocols. Everything is programmed through Tiziano’s tablet interface which comes pre-prepared with certain protocols, but can easily be programmed for more – and there is no need for running water. Simple to operate and programme, and able to stain up to 10 slides at the same time, this machine is easy to load, has a quiet operation and a special ‘agitation’ movement to enhance the staining quality.
We recognise that special staining is an artform, but also that there are ways in which the process can be simplified for the benefit of the technician. Contact us for further information about the products we can offer to facilitate your special staining practice, as in this, and many other ways, we can help you to run the most efficient laboratory.