Monday, January 17, 2011

Fun-a-day 17: Reticulocytes

Reticulocytes are basically brand new red blood cells that have just entered the circulation.  They are normally about 1% of the total population, but can be increased when the body is working hard to produce new blood cells, as in cases of anemia.  Doctors like to see this response, because it means that the bone marrow is normal and working well.  In cases of a low count, this means that the bone marrow isn't working as it should.  This can be due to several reasons, including bad diet, leukemia, or aplastic anemia.

In the lab, we use a special stain that stains RNA that is present in only very young red blood cells.  The red blood cells all stain a beautiful blue-green.  In my quilt block, the reticulocytes are the cells with little black spots.  You'd normally not see so many "retics" in one "field", but hey, this is a quilt, so I had fun making quite a few of them.  A once time-consuming test, we'd make the smear, stain it, then actually count several fields of 100 cells, and note how many of these were reticulocytes as an averaged percentage.  When I started working in the lab in the early 90's, that's how we did every retic count.  In 2006, when I left, almost all retic counts were then being done on our automated hematology instrument, saving us a lot of time.  As the lab gets more and more automated, we worried as med techs that our jobs will be replaced by instruments.  I don't think that'll ever happen, but certainly our jobs change as we do less hands-on work, and more instrument trouble shooting.

On a totally separate subject, it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  I grew up, and attended public schools in the deep South, and was part of the desegregation busing that took place there in the 70's.  I feel fortunate that my parents believed in racial equality and continued to send me to public schools, even as many were being sent to private schools.  I think I learned so much more than math and science by attending the schools that I did.  I hope to continue Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream as I raise my own kids.


Anonymous said...

Another interesting post and I appreciate your last paragraph. I can't imagine what life would have been like...and living up north all my's so foreign.

In fact, my sister and I were talking about how we were the "minority" in one of the elementary schools we attended...but we had some awesome friends!

Beth said...

Blood is so complex... and there are some birds that do live a very long time (think large parrot 60-80 years).

and yes, a huge THANK YOU to Mr. MLK for his vision, we are reaping the benefits. Now if we could extend his dream to religion... the world would be much more peaceful.

Becky said...

All I can say is "Amen, sisters!". There is indeed much work that needs to be done, but we have made so much progress. I'm proof of that!

Becky said...

Oh, and seriously? 60 years? WOW! Never knew they lived that long! I suspect that most of the birds we tested were parrots, but never really knew the species. We did have a wildlife rehab center about 40 minutes away. They may have been samples from them too.