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March 2015
Tissue Processors / Other Histology

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Tissue Histology: Preserving Information from Molecules
Jaleh Mansouri, M.D.

Tissue processing comprises a basic step in diagnostic pathology but often involves organic chemicals such as formaldehyde that may destroy the integrity of molecules. Fixatives like formalin cross-link nucleic acids and proteins. This process alters the physicochemical structures of these molecules thus rendering them less amenable to intact retrieval from paraffin-embedded tissue. Macromolecules such as phosphoproteins and RNA (ribonucleic acid) serve as critical sources of diagnostic and prognostic information, especially in tumor pathology assays (eg Mammoprint, Oncotype Dx). While snap freezing is often performed to preserve tissues for molecular analysis, resulting histomorphology is not optimal and may contain freeze artifacts. For these reasons, researchers have focused on developing novel fixatives that protect molecules in paraffin-embedded tissue for future molecular testing.

One example of an innovative technology is the PAXgene tissue system (PreAnalytiX). This system use formalin-free solution and rapid fixation that aim to preserve both histology and macromolecules such as DNA and RNA. While this technology is promising as a tissue processing tool for both histologic diagnosis and molecular analysis, more studies are needed to evaluate the accuracy and validity of this technology compared to standard formalin fixation in regard to tissue diagnosis and immunohistochemical staining.

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