Opinion: How to Use Mobile Apps for Immunohistochemistry

This guide for apps comes from personal experience testing various programs aimed to improve productivity or to help with selecting reagents.

May 25, 2018
Alexander E. Kalyuzhny

ISTOCK, UNOLThe evolution of science apps on smart phones over the past decade has gone from general overviews of bacteria, plants, and animals, to those for specialized areas of research and experimental techniques, including those to aid immunohistochemistry (IHC) analyses.

With a considerable number of IHC-related apps now at the disposal of scientists, it can be time-consuming to figure out which one will best suit your needs. To help out, I have developed a short overview of the mobile apps most suitable for IHC lab work based on personally testing them for extended periods of time.  I have tried to analyze apps that were designed as IHC productivity tools as well as those that can assist researchers in choosing primary antibodies for IHC and tissue stains.

Based on more than three decades of IHC experience, I think that IHC apps should serve as problem-solving tools rather than a mere collection of protocols and antibody catalogs copied from websites. Usually, protocols and antibodies are chosen far in advance and are not changed during an experiment. However, often due to last-minute changes in the number of samples to be stained and suddenly noticed experimental flaws, there is a need to update the calculations of antibody dilutions and their working volumes, which is critical to the success of IHC staining. Thus, it appears that apps like IHC Navigator, reviewed below, would be the most practical in experimental environments, and I hope to see more of them coming in the near future.

IHC productivity apps

SoS IHC (iOS & Android) This app is designed for pathologists who use IHC for diagnostics. It lists a large number of tumor types and positive and negative biomarkers characterizing each type of tumor. It can be used as a quick reference guide for pathologists on tumor antigens but does not provide IHC protocols. The app includes recommendations for which primary antibodies to use when facing ambiguous results but does not provide information on IHC detection reagents or antibody dilution calculations.       

HER2 Reader (iOS only) This app is exclusively focused on tumor diagnostics by interpreting IHC staining data of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PgR), and epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2). By entering the number of ER-, PgR- and HER2-positive cells, intensity of IHC signal and the profile of membrane staining, the app determines the possible tumor type. In addition to IHC, this app also interprets HER-2 in situ hybridization (ISH) data based on the number of HER-2 copies per cell and analyzes HER-2 amplification by calculating the HER-2/centromere enumerator probe 17 (CEP-17) ratio. It does not provide IHC protocols or antibody dilution calculating tools.

IHC Navigator (iOS only) This is a bona fide IHC calculator of antibody dilutions used for diagnostics and basic science research. The user enters the antibody stock solution concentration, the number of slides to stain, and the approximate volume of antibody working solution per slide and the app accurately calculates how much stock solution and antibody diluent should be mixed together to make the antibody working solution for either single-color or multicolor IHC. It has a very useful feature that allows the user to determine the volume of working solution based on the tissue section areas. The app allows users to save calculations. As a bonus, the app also allows users to calculate the antibody working solutions for immunocytochemistry (ICC) using cells cultured in multi-well plates and chamber slides. It does not include IHC protocols.  

Reagent apps

Thermo Scientific Pierce Antibodies (iOS & Android) Thermo Scientific is a well-known manufacturer of biological reagents for research and diagnostics. This app is a truncated version of its website allowing users to choose antibodies for different applications, including IHC and ICC. The app includes three major sections covering antibodies to detect cell organelles, antibodies for neuroscience research, and protein loading controls for western blotting (the latter is irrelevant to researchers doing IHC and ICC). Researchers can use the first two sections as an antibody reference and as a buying guide with prices. It appears that the major emphasis is on neuroscience research, which makes this app of limited value for IHC purposes. It would be very helpful for Thermo Scientific to add other sections such as immunology and stem cells.  

Abcam (iOS only) This app is offered by the well-known and reputable antibody supplier Abcam, which packed the app with protocols for different antibody applications including IHC. The menu of IHC protocols is quite extensive and covers many aspects of experimental procedures, such as tissue fixation and processing, antigen retrieval, chromogenic and fluorescence detection, and buffer recipes. Abcam did a very good job on compiling the protocols, which are detailed and easy to follow. It appears that the app is a digested version of Abcam’s website and is probably intended for researchers on the go who need to have an IHC guide at their fingertips. The app includes a so-called “mass dilution calculator,” which is apparently designed to help with antibody dilutions. However, it is quite primitive and does not calculate the total volume of antibody working solution required for an entire IHC experiment nor does it estimate the volume of working solution needed for different sizes of tissue section.

FlashKarte Histology Stains (iOS only) This is a test-yourself app for researchers who use common histological stains either alone or in combination with IHC. It is designed as a set of random flash cards that describe the chemical components of stains and their histological staining patterns. The app is straightforward and easy to use, and it may be found useful by medical students and histotechnologists as a reference guide for common histological stains. It does not have any protocols or practical recommendations for choosing antibodies for IHC or for calculating their volumes and dilutions.

Alexander E. Kalyuzhny is the Immunohistochemistry and ELISpot manager at Bio-Techne, and has no relationships with these app developers.