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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Bone Marrow Aspiration: Normal Hematopoiesis and Basic Interpretive Procedures. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Manual Staining of Bone Marrow Preparations: Wright's and Wright-Giemsa Stain

Wright's or Wright-Giemsa stains are usually the preferred staining method for bone marrow aspirate smears. These are methanol-based staining solutions with similar dye composition to the diff-quick stain but require longer stain contact time for adequate staining. The Wright's and Wright-Giemsa stains have a buffer step as well. Since Wright's stains are methanol based they do not require a fixation step prior to staining, although you might prefer to do so first to reduce water artifact that can occur on humid days or with aged stain.

In the dip method of staining, the smears are first dipped in methanol to fix the specimens and then placed in Wright's or Wright-Geimsa stain for 10-15 minutes to stain. The smears are next moved to a mixture of stain and 6.8 pH phosphate buffer (usually one part stain to 2-3 parts buffer) and allowed to stain for at 20-30 minutes. After staining, they are given a quick rinse in distilled water and allowed to air dry before mounting or cover-slipping.

When using a staining rack, the marrow slides or coverslips are first flooded with enough stain to cover the slide and stained for 10-15 minutes. Then, a 6.8 pH buffer is carefully added without overflowing and gently mixed by blowing until a green metallic sheen forms. This is allowed to stand for 20-30 minutes and then rinsed off with distilled water. The slides or coverslips are then air dried and mounted.

Staining times can be extended for extremely cellular marrows; however, care must be taken when using the rack staining method. Extended times can lead to evaporation of the stain and cause excessive precipitation. Both the stain and buffer can be topped up if necessary to prevent this from occuring, while additional rinse time may be needed.

Wright's and Wright-Giemsa stains, when performed properly, give sharp and clear nuclear, cytoplasmic, and granule detail. There can be variation in the quality of the stain from batch to batch, dependent on the manufacturer's quality control, storage, and shipping conditions. Many manufacturers age their stains for a minimal amount of time before shipping and assume that there will be additional standing time at the distributor before it reaches your lab. This may work for peripheral blood staining, but it is not ideal for bone marrow staining. It is advisable, if possible, to keep a separate stock of Wright's stain for bone marrow staining which is kept at least 6 months before use. Like a fine wine, the older Wright's stain gets, the better the quality and clarity of the final stain.