Many innovations in the histology lab have been embraced with enthusiasm by managers and technicians alike – and with good reason, because the vast majority have been integrated almost seamlessly and have quickly improved accuracy, workflow and productivity.

But there remains one stubborn exception to the rule: the automatic microtome, which has often been rebuffed by technicians.

Specialist microtomists are skilled individuals, whose talents can sometimes be under-valued. They are required to have an unparalleled attention to detail, dexterity, knowledge and experience. They are aware that tissue samples are unique and precious and must be managed with extreme care, which means every stage of the histology process needs to be expertly handled. Microtomy is a vital step in that process, not least as inaccuracies in this area can cause laboratory inefficiencies, loss of specimens, managerial frustration and patient anxiety.

Many microtomists have been working in their field for many years, and have developed their own systems and techniques. Large numbers have been working with the same or similar machines over very long periods of time and as a result, they are often averse to change.

Their reluctance is understandable. It can be argued that manual processing allows for better hand to eye coordination, which technicians find reassuring. The manual operation of a microtome allows for the clear observation of every specimen as it is being trimmed and sectioned and the quality of the ribbons can be assessed by eye. This allows issues such as wrinkling to be addressed in real-time.

So, if it isn’t broken, why fix it? What does the automatic microtome offer that the manual doesn’t?

Automation speeds throughput and increases accuracy: it’s that simple. Faster, cleaner sectioning results in quicker turnarounds and that means patients receive a quicker diagnosis.

Sectioning is still one of the most time-consuming elements of the histological process. The correction of any non-conformities can increase the overall time spent on each specimen. Automation in conjunction with high-quality blades allow the user to ensure maximum performance and accuracy in sectioning. High quality sections can be cut in increments of 0.5 microns over and over again, greatly reducing manual variables.

In addition, technicians can benefit from a tailored working position, which reduces repetitive movements, cutting the incidence of RSI and ultimately contributing to their long-term working welfare.

And it is important to set these aspects against some longer-term trends. Pathology is currently experiencing a widespread decline in job applicants, with skilled, high-calibre candidates becoming scarcer, despite increased demand. It has been estimated that on average, vacancies are taking over 6 months to fill. Job forecasts predict that there will be a further increase in demand by over 2% within the next five years. This places greater pressure on lab managers to continue to maintain process times whilst balancing them against depleted staff numbers and enhanced budgetary constraints.

Advancements in microtomy could help alleviate these problems. But change can create challenges, particularly amongst technicians who have used manual machines as part of established protocols for most of their professional lives.

Trialling equipment provides the perfect solution. It can help to provide the link between the imperative to improve timelines and processes and the understandable reticence of technicians to break their well-established methods of working.

Microtomy is an art, perfected over years of training and experience. Advancements in microtomes can help to enhance that artform and provide quicker more reliable workflows which, ultimately improve efficiency and contribute to a happier, more productive laboratory.

If you’re unsure about automating trimming and sectioning in your histology lab, why not book your free demonstration and trial the Galileo Series 2 Microtome in your lab?

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