College of American Pathologists
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Innovations In pathology

September 2003
Seth L. Haber, MD

Close-up photography
Luis Carlos Rey-Martinez, MD, of Space Coast Pathologists, PA, Melbourne, Fla., finds he can take more effective gross photos by holding a simple magnifying lens, similar to the one his histotechnologists use for embedding, as close as he can to the lens. He fills the frame this way while not decreasing the sharpness of the lens on his digital camera (a Kodak DC280 Zoom). His technique is particularly helpful for those whose camera lenses do not accommodate the filter-like commercial close-up “Portra” lenses.

‘Old’ microscopes
When the image from the scanning objective of his 15-year-old Zeiss microscope became blurred, Harold R. Amsbaugh, MD, of Greater Iowa Pathology Associates, Decorah, Iowa, called the manufacturer. Zeiss told him the objective was too old to repair or replace. Dr. Amsbaugh sent the objective to a local repair service (John Petterson at 515-270-8048) that found that oil had seeped into the lens. When he removed the oil from the inner surfaces of the lens, the objective worked perfectly. Other local microscope or camera lens repair services might have done as well.

Tare it down
Arthur H. Mensch, MD, of Inova Alexandria (Va.) Hospital, has a neat way of weighing messy specimens without having to clean his scale pan repeatedly. He weighs the specimen container with the specimen and all its extraneous fluid (blood, formalin, etc.) inside. Then he removes the specimen and reweighs the container without the specimen but with the extraneous effluvia. Subtracting the second weight from the first tares to the weight of the specimen.

Writing a quiz or paper
Gilbert E. Corrigan, MD, PhD, of University Medical Center Laboratory, Lafayette, La., uses his bibliographic service (Ovid, Medscape, NLM, Aries) in a convenient way to write a quiz or do a meta-analysis. He first searches for the subjects and sends the chosen abstracts to his home computer as e-mail. At home, he downloads the abstracts to a file and opens the file in a word processor. Next, he uses the “tile” function of the word processor to make the download 50 percent of the window. He opens a new word processor document and tiles that document into the other half of the screen. That gives him the literature on half of the screen and a blank space on the other half. He can then easily cut and paste as he writes the quiz or paper in the blank new document. Of course, each question in the quiz can be referenced.

Small specimens
Mett B. Ausley Jr., MD, of Columbus County Hospital, Whiteville, NC, suggests that tiny whitish biopsy fragments floating in specimen containers are hard to see against the background of a white cutting board. He cuts discarded x-ray film into small squares and places one square on the cutting board when he grosses these specimens. It is easier to locate and grasp the fragments against the dark background.

I had suggested years ago using vinyl flooring tiles as cutting boards. They are inexpensive (disposable), easy to clean, kind to blades, and come in white, black, and a rainbow of solid colors. They can be cut to any convenient size from the 9-inch and 12-inch squares in which they come.

Vinyl squares, when cut into 3-inch squares, with moistened cigarette, lens, Kimwipes, or curler papers stuck on one side, are ideal to help wrap minuscule specimens (Innovations in Pathology: The Best of Thirty Years, pp. 112–113,

Try these filter tips
No, I’m not touting a new kind of cigarettes—I’m a militant anti-smoker. I’m referring to tips—that is, innovations—on filtering specimens.

Izak B. Dimenstein, MD, PhD, HT (ASCP), of Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Ill., has good tips for filtering small specimens. He points out that filtration in the cassette is the safest method and often the fastest.

Dr. Dimenstein uses two layers of blotting paper or multifold hand towels and two disposable plastic containers of different diameters but equal heights. He cuts two sections out of the smaller container into which the cassettes will fit. The larger one just supports the cassette lid.

As an alternative, he suggests laying the cassette on a piece of moistened lens paper or a piece of a wet baby diaper in a standard glass slide box. The brand of the baby diaper does not matter substantially. We (at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Santa Clara, Calif.) used disposable absorbent underpads designed for hospital beds and old newspapers we were recycling.

For slightly larger specimens, Dr. Dimenstein filters the material through a small strainer with a fine mesh. (An assortment of strainers is available from Williams-Sonoma and other kitchen supplies stores.) Also, he finds that urology stone interceptors are effective for specimens submitted in a large amount of fixative.

Additional tips on these subjects are in Innovations in Pathology: The Best of Thirty Years, chapter 7,

Filing correctly
Stephen G. Ruby, MD, of Palos Community Hospital, Palos Heights, Ill., and Garry W. Gill, CT (ASCP) CFIAC, of Indianapolis, remind us that labs should use matching color labels, frosted slides, and cassettes. Then, if they change the color each year, a quick visual check ensures that slides or blocks are not misfiled in the wrong year.

Bench extenders
Ronald Freake, DSc, of McCamey (Tex.) Hospital and Convalescent Center, suggests the use of “bench extenders” to increase the amount of workspace by up to 40 percent. They are similar to the under-counter pull-out shelves common in many kitchens. They can be custom-made and installed by any cabinetmaker at the time the countertops are built or as a retrofit. They’re pulled out as needed and then returned to their place under the countertop.

Software discount
Microsoft introduced a few months ago a “Teacher” version of Office XP that it sells through Staples, Best Buy, Office Depot, and other large office retailers. It is intended for K-12 teachers and students, but those retailers don’t check IDs and Microsoft doesn’t enforce the rules. In other words, anybody can buy the “Teacher” edition of Office XP standard for $129.99, which is as good as academic pricing.