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Quantification of histochemical stains using whole slide imaging: development of a method and demonstration of its usefulness in laboratory quality control
  1. Allan Gray1,
  2. Alex Wright2,
  3. Pete Jackson1,
  4. Mike Hale2,
  5. Darren Treanor1,2
  1. 1Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, UK
  2. 2University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Darren Treanor, St James University Hospital, Beckett St, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK; darrentreanor{at}


Aims Histochemical staining of tissue is a fundamental technique in tissue diagnosis and research, but it suffers from significant variability. Efforts to address this include laboratory quality controls and quality assurance schemes, but these rely on subjective interpretation of stain quality, are laborious and have low reproducibility. We aimed (1) to develop a method for histochemical stain quantification using whole slide imaging and image analysis and (2) to demonstrate its usefulness in measuring staining variation.

Methods A method to quantify the individual stain components of histochemical stains on virtual slides was developed. It was evaluated for repeatability and reproducibility, then applied to control sections of an appendix to quantify H&E staining (H/E intensities and H:E ratio) between automated staining machines and to measure differences between six regional diagnostic laboratories.

Results The method was validated with <0.5% variation in H:E ratio measurement when using the same scanner for a batch of slides (ie, it was repeatable) but was not highly reproducible between scanners or over time, where variation of 7% was found. Application of the method showed H:E ratios between three staining machines varied from 0.69 to 0.93, H:E ratio variation over time was observed. Interlaboratory comparison demonstrated differences in H:E ratio between regional laboratories from 0.57 to 0.89.

Conclusions A simple method using whole slide imaging can be used to quantify and compare histochemical staining. This method could be deployed in routine quality assurance and quality control. Work is needed on whole slide imaging devices to improve reproducibility.


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