Cryostat Article #4: Research vs. Clinical Cryostats

Cryostat Article #4: Research vs. Clinical Cryostats

Welcome back! Thanks for your support and continued reading of our Precisionary blog articles. This week we continue with the 4th article in our series of cryostats. Do you work in a lab or a clinic? Both? You may have heard the terms “research cryostat” and “clinical cryostat” (Figure 1). What are the differences between these types of cryostats, and which one is right for you? Here, we’ll focus on explaining the differences and similarities between research and clinical cryostats, so that we can help you find the right model.

Figure 1. Cryostats produce frozen tissue sections that are used in both basic science research settings and clinical labs.

What’s the difference between “research” and “clinical” cryostats?

The single key difference between a research cryostat and a clinical cryostat is the number of cryostat compressors. Clinical cryostats typically have a single compressor system. Why? Because these clinical units are typically used for making quick frozen sections of surgical biopsies. So most of the time, the glass window to the freeze chamber can remain closed. Thus, the one compressor system is only needed to chill the microtome or specimen holder.

In contrast, research cryostats are used for a prolonged period of time where users will leave the glass window open and collect hundreds of frozen sections. Therefore, research cryostats typically have two compressors (called a dual compressor system). One compressor helps chill the freeze chamber and allow it to maintain the desired low temperature while the user is cutting tissue. The second compressor works just like it does in clinical cryostats—chilling the specimen holder.

It’s incredibly important to have adequate compressors for your cryostat. The Precisionary Cryostat CF-6100 is built with a dual compressor (i.e., two compressor) system, and can be used for both research and clinical purposes. Be aware that other market cryostat models may not explicitly say how many compressors are included, because lower priced cryostats typically only have one compressor. So be careful when you evaluate cryostat models when making a purchasing decision.

What are research cryostat applications?

In basic sciences research, cryostats are used to create very thin sections of tissue slices, which can be mounted onto glass slides for further staining. Tissue samples can be fresh frozen or fixed before it is embedded and frozen for slicing. The slices that are produced can be directly placed onto a glass slide, or collected and stored in buffer as free floating sections. Typically staining procedures after sectioning include immunohistochemistry (IHC), in-situ hybridization (ISH), H&E staining, electron microscopy (EM) studies, and any additional special stains to study proteins (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Cryostats in basic sciences research help produce thin tissue sections for IHC, different stains, and EM.

What are clinical cryostat applications?

In the clinical setting, freeze cryostats are most commonly used in pathology and dermatology fields. In pathology departments, cryostats help produce frozen sections from surgical biopsies for almost immediate evaluation (typically for signs of cancer). In dermatology, cryostats are utilized for Mohs surgery evaluation (Figure 3). Of course, because of the overlap between research and clinical studies, cryostats are often used for a wide range of applications.

Figure 3. Cryostats in clinical core labs help pathologists evaluate surgical biopsies, and is also used in dermatology for Mohs surgery.

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