IHC/ISH stainer systems perform the following functions:

Provide an environment for reagents to react with specimen material during timed incubation periods
Apply unique reagents onto slides in a predetermined manner
Rinse solutions applied onto slides at specified intervals (i.e., between incubation periods)

The only additional function of some ISH instruments is the ability to apply controlled heat to slides for the purpose of denaturing DNA targets. Therefore, if the targets of a laboratory’s ISH procedures are exclusively RNA, then nearly any system could be used, since such protocols do not require this slide-heating capability.

Each brand of stainer has its own advantages and disadvantages. Automated IHC/ISH slide staining systems can be described as being “open” or “closed,” and as providing either “on-line” heat-retrieval or relying on an “off-line” method.

Open systems offer the advantage of free choice of reagent brands and, with many reagent companies to choose from, can have a big impact on cost. They often allow a great deal of flexibility in protocol design and implementation also.

The main advantage of closed systems is dedicated vendor assistance when setting up protocols and troubleshooting processes. The main complaint about closed systems is that they require nearly exclusive dependence on the equipment vendor’s reagents, notoriously known to cost more due to competitor exclusion. Closed systems often restrict the end-user’s ability to design and/or modify staining protocol templates.

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