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Slide Stains: Choosing the Best Stain for the Best Results

As a histology lab, using stains in your microscopy work is likely a routine part of your operations. Enhancing contrast and highlighting structures in your slides is obviously an important part in gaining accurate results in your tests.

Your sponsors are going to depend on you bringing the best possible slide results, and they should trust your stain knowledge to make this happen.  Choosing the best stain for the best results isn't always easy considering how many stains there are in histology. While you'll find commonly used ones, many others exist for specialized purposes.  When you have specific tissue types you're studying, more obscure stains can frequently give you better imagery. Going with a specialized stain also helps in reaching a more accurate diagnosis, or to further differentiate components seen in slides you've already taken.

Let's take a look at the most common stains and some unique ones that may help you keep your reputation. If you can't do this well, you may ultimately want to outsource to a knowledgeable lab.

The Most Common Stains Used

Haematoxylin and eosin combined make up a common stain most histology labs use first. No doubt you're familiar with at least haematoxylin, which is sometimes used alone. Combining this with eosin helps bring better definition to tissues and cells using a specific color chart. With haematoxylin, cell nuclei get dyed a bluish purple, and eosin dyes other structures pink or red.

More scientifically, haematoxylin stains all nucleic acids (like DNA and RNA), with eosin staining basic structures like muscle or red blood cells. Keep in mind these stains work better for strictly routine histology slides.

It's time to investigate some other useful stains giving proven results.

Using a Gram Stain

Developed by a Danish scientist named Hans Christian Gram, the Gram Stain is a popular alternative to haematoxylin and eosin. It helps to better determine the characteristics and classification of bacteria in your slides. Since bacteria is one of the most challenging organisms for detection after H&E staining, many histologists have to turn to the Gram stain to make sure bacteria is truly present. Applying this, you'll be able to better determine bacterial infections in the animals you studied. However, you need to conduct several steps before any application. Staining with crystal violet is usually done first. Then the stain gets treated with an iodine and potassium iodide solution.  Decolorization with alcohol and acetone occurs next, followed by counterstaining with red or pink.

Other Important Stains to Consider

Trying to scope out amyloid fibers is important in your histology slides since these determine diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes. H&E stains don't always make amyloid clear, which is why histologists have to turn to yet another stain.

Congo Red stains have become popular for this reason, and you might find it surprising it was once used in the textile and clothing industries. Often, H&E stained slides make amyloid look like something else. With Congo Red, it turns these fibers a pale orange-red color so you can't miss them.

What's really important is if you don't have access to these stains, you should feel comfortable in outsourcing this work to a knowledgeable lab. Outsourcing saves you money from having to invest in stains and slide equipment on your own. You're also going to gain an experienced lab team who knows how to work with stains and in creating high-quality slides every day.

This is what we do at HSRL. Contact us to find out more about our lab services done within your budget and on time.

HSRL Specializes in Histopathology & Specimen Storage Services

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