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.