Saturday, July 19, 2014

Histology Lab

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 8
Today I had a chance to see the inside of a histology lab for the first time since under-grad study. It was a whistle-stop tour.
Histology is the study of tissue and cells.  In this particular lab (and no doubt in lots of others) samples are prepared by embedding tissue in liquid paraffin wax which cools to a solid.  The resulting wax block with the sample in it is sliced super-thinly, and the slices (5 micrometres or one cell thick - I think) are mounted on glass slides and stained.  The stains give colour and contrast to samples that would otherwise be largely colourless and translucent, allowing greater detail to be observed.
While we were in the lab we looked at various slides, including a human lung sample at 4x, 10x and 40x magnification.  At 40x I was able to see the distinctive donut shape of blood cells, still very tiny, inside a blood vessel, as well as the nuclei of other cells in the sample which stained a dark purple.
The human body is a fascinating place and so is a histology lab, with samples of dead people literally everywhere.  I have to say that part of my fascination was the visceral (hah) reaction I still have to this treatment of the human body, even as I comforted myself with the knowledge that everyone whose mortal remains had been rendered into a sample had given full and informed consent.
But it's interesting to reflect that taboos surrounding the body after death have remained with us, even after the Renaissance opened the door to systemacised study using cadavers.  Could someone haunt a sample of themselves, for example?  Is there a spiritual dimension to this?  Or are we as corporeal as every other mammal on the planet?  We certainly look very similar under the hood.

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