Our handy helper — thanks to you

Our BOND RX Research auto-stainer.

Our laboratories have a range of high-tech equipment thanks to donations and philanthropic support. We wanted to show you how one vital piece of equipment can help us so much. In just a few hours, our BOND RX Research auto-stainer does what would otherwise take us two days, and we use it in almost all of our research.

Most of our research relies on staining tissue samples

Our research usually requires us to identify key components of cells and tissues. We use staining to help us identify specific properties that characterise the diseases and cancers we investigate.

Our auto-stainer uses a variety of antibodies and diagnostic markers to stain sections of diseased human tissues. It identifies specific components unique to the cells and tissue samples of certain diseases, using different immunohistochemical techniques.

To begin the identification process, we slice very thin (about 4 micrometre) sections of tissue samples from a particular disease, such as cancer, we’re investigating. We place these sections on glass slides. We use a different piece of equipment to stain the tissue, changing it from white to pink-purple — like in the image below. This initial staining means we can identify the type of cancer or disease and its properties.


A haematoxylin and eosin stain of a metastatic malignant melanoma showing cancer cells (arrows), magnified 400x.

Next, we use the auto-stainer to identify more specific properties of the tissues using techniques like the one in the images below. We can customise the settings of the auto-stainer so it identifies specific markers or tags. These results form a large part of the research our team publishes in international journals.


Images of a metastatic malignant melanoma stained using fluorescence dye, showing cancer stem cells (in green) that express pro-renin receptor (in red), which is a component of the renin-angiotensin system. Magnified 400x.

The auto-stainer makes our research process very efficient

It works quickly — we can stain up to 30 slides at the same time, using different customised settings. Each run can take up to four hours to complete, depending on the settings. This means we can stain up to 60 slides in a day, compared with four slides over two days by hand staining.

We can also run the auto-stainer overnight, so our research team doesn’t have to do overtime. For example, the stains using immunofluorescence tags (like the images above in green and red) usually take 11 hours using the auto-stainer.

Back in the past we had to stain cells by hand

Without this vital piece of equipment we would have to stain by hand and follow multiple steps. It usually takes two days to produce four slides — a fraction of the amount of slides the auto-stainer turns out. Sometimes we would get inconsistent results because multiple steps and sometimes multiple people were involved in the staining procedure, which could vary from one person to another.  

We acquired our auto-stainer at the end of 2013. It was the first installed in New Zealand and one of the few that can be used for research applications. Leica, the auto-stainer’s manufacturer, provides excellent servicing with technical experts that we can contact readily.

Many labs around the world still stain tissue samples by hand. We’re very fortunate that the funding we’ve received allows us to use this fantastic piece of equipment — and others like it.