Fixation on Histology

Lessons From a Slide Surface Mystery


Frank Walsh, a tech in the immunostains lab at the Mayo Clinic, had a mystery on his hands: The Mayo Clinic’s slides had problems with HER2 and no one knew what the issue was or what to do about it. Walsh and his colleagues launched an investigation into the slide mystery and through a lot of trial, along with some error, they were able to find the underlying cause of the issue and find solutions for it.

In the NSH “Slide Surface Chemistry” webinar, Walsh discusses this investigation process, as well as the following lessons he learned along the way—lessons that may be able to help you in your own lab.

Choose the Best Slides

The Mayo Clinic’s HER2 problem started when the company purchased customized slides with its name engraved on them. Since Walsh’s department started sending slides to an outside consultant, the Mayo Clinic wanted to ensure there was no confusion in identifying where the slides originated. Since the company offering the slides provided a volume discount, the Mayo Clinic purchased a large supply that would last years. Unfortunately, after a few cycles of hot and cold weather, the problems began.

By the end of the investigation, Walsh concluded that it is vital to always buy slides that are just right for the job. And one thing that contributes to this is the packaging the slides come in because that can affect their charge.

“Look for slides that are manufactured and packaged in cardboard, not plastic,” Walsh explained. “Plastic essentially builds up charge better than paper or cardboard, so it’s a little bit easier to charge it. You can charge a lot of things, but plastic is very prone to it.”  

Manage Slide Inventory

While buying a large supply of slides seemed like a great idea in the beginning to save money, Walsh and his colleagues paid the price in repeating slides, time, and aggravation. Now he stresses the importance of managing slide inventory, so you never have more than you need at any given time.

“You don’t want unused control slides sitting around for too long. If you have a test that isn’t ordered commonly, make sure you are rotating those slides. For some of our most rare tests, we’ll just cut as needed so they’re cut fresh, and we don’t have a slide that’s six- or eight-months old,” said Walsh. “We don’t have much more than a couple months of slides on hand, if not less if they don’t have an expiration date on them.”

Follow Manufacturer’s Instructions

When Walsh started looking into the problems with the custom slides, he realized that he wasn’t paying close attention to any of the manufacturer’s instructions on any of the slides the lab was using. In fact, in the case of one type of slide, he was throwing the instructions away.

“I opened up thousands of boxes of Fisherbrand Superfrost Plus slides, which is what we had chosen at that time for histology. Every time I opened them, I opened up the plastic wrap, took the cover off the plastic box, and there was a piece of paper in there that I just threw away. It had a bunch of writing on it, and I didn’t know what it said. We were going through slides like crazy,” Walsh said. “Finally, when we had trouble and we knew it was the slides, I started investigating this and looking at it, so the first thing I did was I opened a box and read that piece of paper. I'm embarrassed to say it took that long. There was a lot of good information.”

The challenges faced by Frank Walsh and his team at the Mayo Clinic resonate with labs across the spectrum. The lessons learned are not just anecdotes but blueprints for overcoming hurdles in your own laboratory practices. But here is the exciting part – there's more to discover.

Click here to register for the NSH webinar, Slide Surface Chemistry: Understanding an Essential Link to Obtaining Quality IHC Staining Results. This isn't just a webinar; it's an opportunity to refine your lab practices, optimize your procedures, and ensure the highest quality in your work.