(19)
(11)EP 2 938 998 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
17.05.2017 Bulletin 2017/20

(21)Application number: 13824565.9

(22)Date of filing:  20.12.2013
(51)International Patent Classification (IPC): 
G01N 1/31(2006.01)
G01N 35/10(2006.01)
G01N 35/00(2006.01)
G01N 35/04(2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/US2013/077162
(87)International publication number:
WO 2014/105739 (03.07.2014 Gazette  2014/27)

(54)

SPECIMEN PROCESSING SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR PREPARING REAGENTS

SYSTEME UND VERFAHREN ZUR HERSTELLUNG VON REAGENZIEN

SYSTÈMES DE TRAITEMENT D'ÉCHANTILLON ET PROCÉDÉS DE PRÉPARATION DE RÉACTIFS


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AL AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MK MT NL NO PL PT RO RS SE SI SK SM TR

(30)Priority: 26.12.2012 US 201261746085 P
15.03.2013 US 201361799098 P

(43)Date of publication of application:
04.11.2015 Bulletin 2015/45

(73)Proprietor: Ventana Medical Systems, Inc.
Tucson, Arizona 85755 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • DYSON-HOLLAND, Luke
    Hawthorn East, VIC 3123 (AU)
  • MALBERG, Daniel, Christopher
    Hawtorn East, VIC 3123 (AU)
  • BARNETT, Donald, Michael
    Tucson, AZ 85739 (US)
  • MCDONALD, Timothy, Brett
    Hawtorn, VIC 3122 (AU)
  • MARSHALL, Kevin, David
    Tucson, AZ 85750 (US)

(74)Representative: Herzog, Fiesser & Partner Patentanwälte PartG mbB 
Dudenstrasse 46
68167 Mannheim
68167 Mannheim (DE)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A1-99/49295
US-A- 6 146 592
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    TECHNICAL FIELD



    [0001] This disclosure relates to systems for preparing specimens for analysis. In particular, the disclosure relates to specimen processing systems and methods of processing specimens.

    BACKGROUND



    [0002] A wide variety of techniques have been developed to prepare and analyze biological specimens. Example techniques include microscopy, microarray analyses (e.g., protein and nucleic acid microarray analyses), and mass spectrometric methods. Specimens are prepared for analysis by applying one or more liquids to the specimens. If a specimen is treated with multiple liquids, both the application and the subsequent removal of each of the liquids can be important for producing samples suitable for analysis.

    [0003] US 6,146,592 discloses an automatic biochemical analyzer having a sample turntable and a reaction turntable, wherein plural sample containers for holding samples are arrayed on the sample turntable and wherein plural reaction containers are arrayed on the reaction turntable. A sampling pipette draws in a sample from some sampling container and injects the sample into some reaction container. A reagent pipette draws in some reagent from some reagent container and injects the reagent into the same reaction container.

    [0004] WO 99/49295 A1 discloses an automated staining apparatus including an arm moveable in three dimensions, and a hollow tip head located on the arm including integral reagent tip head, wash tip and blow tip for selectively dispensing gas and liquid onto microscope slides.

    [0005] Microscope slides bearing biological specimens, e.g., tissue sections or cells, are often treated with one or more dyes or reagents to add color and contrast to otherwise transparent or invisible cells or cell components. Specimens can be prepared for analysis by manually applying dyes or other reagents to specimen-bearing slides. This labor-intensive process often results in inconsistent processing due to individual techniques among laboratory technicians.

    [0006] "Dip and dunk" automated machines immerse specimens in liquids by a technique similar to manual immersing techniques. These automated machines can process specimens in batches by submerging racks carrying microscope slides in open baths. Unfortunately, carryover of liquids between containers leads to contamination and degradation of the processing liquids. Worse, cells sloughing off the specimen carrying slides can cause contamination of other slides in the liquid baths. These types of processes also utilize excessive volumes of liquids, resulting in relatively high processing costs when the reagents must be changed to reduce the possibility of specimen cross-contamination. Open containers are also prone to evaporative losses and reagent oxidative degradation that may significantly alter the concentration and effectiveness of the reagents, resulting in inconsistent processing. It may be difficult to process samples without producing significant volumes of waste that may require special handling and disposal.

    [0007] Immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization staining processes are often used to prepare tissue specimens. The rate of immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization staining of sectioned fixed tissue on a microscope slide is limited by the speed at which molecules (e.g., conjugating biomolecules) can diffuse into the fixed tissue from an aqueous solution placed in direct contact with the tissue section. Tissue is often "fixed" immediately after excision by placing it in a 10% solution of formaldehyde, which preserves the tissue from autocatalytic destruction by cross-linking much of the protein via methylene bridges. This cross-linked tissue may present many additional barriers to diffusion, including the lipid bilayer membranes that enclose individual cells and organelles. Conjugate biomolecules (antibody or DNA probe molecules) can be relatively large, ranging in size from a few kilodaltons to several hundred kilodaltons, which constrains them to diffuse slowly into solid tissue with typical times for sufficient diffusion being in the range of several minutes to a few hours. Typical incubation conditions are 30 minutes at 37 degrees centigrade. The stain rate is often driven by a concentration gradient so the stain rate can be increased by increasing the concentration of the conjugate in the reagent to compensate for slow diffusion. Unfortunately, conjugates are often very expensive, so increasing their concentration is wasteful and often not economically viable. Additionally, the excessive amount of conjugate that is driven into the tissue, when high concentrations are used, is entrapped in the tissue, is difficult to rinse out, and causes high levels of non-specific background staining. In order to reduce the noise due to non-specific background staining and increase the signal of specific staining, low concentrations of conjugate with long incubation times are often used to allow the conjugate to bind only to the specific sites.

    [0008] Histology staining instruments often use relatively large volumes of reagent (100 µL) in a puddle of typically 300 µL of buffer. Some conventional instruments mix the reagent by alternating tangential air jets onto an overlaying oil layer that rotates and counter-rotates when contacted by the alternating air jets, thereby imparting motion into the underlying aqueous puddle. This mixing is slow and not particularly vigorous, and it can create significant evaporation losses, especially at the elevated temperatures that are often necessary. Large volumes of rinse liquid are used to physically displace the large puddles of reagents, which are covered with oil. This rinsing procedure produces large volumes of waste liquid, which may be hazardous waste.

    OVERVIEW OF TECHNOLOGY



    [0009] Some embodiments of the technology are directed to an automated slide processing apparatus for dispensing liquids onto one or more microscope slides. The automated slide processing apparatus can comprise, in one embodiment, a carousel that includes a plurality of reservoir wells and a reagent pipette assembly that includes a reagent pipette movable between at least one loading position for obtaining reagent from one of the reservoir wells and at least one dispense position for dispensing reagent onto one of the microscope slides. In some arrangements, the automated slide processing apparatus can also include a wash pipette assembly configured to wash the plurality of reservoir wells and a drive mechanism coupled to the carousel and configured to rotate the carousel to position the reservoir wells relative to the reagent pipette assembly and/or the wash pipette assembly.

    [0010] At least some of the embodiments of the automated slide processing apparatus can include a filling station including a plurality of containers holding reagents and a plurality of slide processing stations. The reagent pipette assembly, for example, can be movable through an internal chamber of the automated slide processing apparatus to transport reagents obtained at the filling station to the carousel and to dispense reagent mixtures from the carousel onto one of the microscope slides. In another embodiment, the reagent pipette assembly is movable between a filling position for obtaining reagent from the containers at the filling station and a dispensing position for filling one or more of the reservoir wells with reagent from the filling station. In some embodiments, the automated slide processing apparatus has a mixing mode in which the reagent pipette assembly mixes reagents within one or more of the reservoir wells and dispenses the reagent mixtures onto the microscope slides. In other embodiments, the wash pipette assembly mixes reagents within one of the reservoir wells.

    [0011] The drive mechanism, for example, can be configured to sequentially rotate the reservoir wells underneath a wash pipette of the wash pipette assembly and/or the reagent pipette of het reagent pipette assembly. In one embodiment, the reagent pipette assembly has a reagent load state for obtaining reagent from the reservoir wells while the wash pipette assembly, for example, delivers wash liquid to another one of the reagent wells. In some embodiments, the wash pipette assembly includes a pipette movable into each of the reservoir wells. In a further embodiment, the wash pipette assembly is fluidically coupled to a vacuum source, and the wash pipette assembly draws liquid from one of the reservoir wells when the vacuum source draws a vacuum. In some embodiments, the reagent pipette assembly accesses the reservoir well at the same location, and the carousel can rotate the reservoir wells to the location accessible by the reagent pipette assembly. In other embodiments, the carousel rotates to position reagent wells such that the reagent pipette assembly accesses reservoir wells at different locations.

    [0012] In some embodiments, the carrousel has dedicated waste pathways to direct liquid into a drain without risk of contamination to other adjacent wells. In at least some embodiments of the technology, the carousel includes spillways configured to allow fluid (e.g., cleaning liquid, reagent, etc.) to flow from the reservoirs wells to prevent cross-contamination (e.g., flow of fluid between adjacent reservoir wells). The spillways can have the same radial length to inhibit or prevent recirculation of the waste stream into an adjacent well. In one embodiment, the carousel can include a plurality of overflow partitions that are individually positioned circumferentially between adjacent reservoir wells. In one example, the overflow partitions extend upwardly and radially inward from the reservoir wells. The carousel, in further embodiments, can include a drain and the spillways that allow an overflow of reagent to flow from the reservoir wells toward the drain.

    [0013] In one embodiment, the automated slide processing apparatus includes a controller communicatively coupled to the drive mechanism and configured to command the drive mechanism such that the drive mechanism sequentially moves each of the reservoir wells to a washing position for washing by the wash pipette assembly. The controller, in some embodiments, stores and executes instructions for commanding the reagent pipette to sequentially fill the reservoir wells with reagent from reagent containers. In another embodiment, the automated slide processing apparatus includes a controller having mixing instructions that are executable to command the reagent pipette assembly such that the reagent pipette assembly delivers at least two reagents to one or more of the reservoir wells to produce a reagent mixture. In one arrangement of such an embodiment, the controller has mixed reagent dispense instructions that are executable to command the reagent pipette assembly to dispense reagent mixtures onto specimens.

    [0014] Further embodiments of the technology are directed to methods of sequentially delivering reagents to a plurality of reservoir wells of a carousel to produce reagent mixtures. The carousel can be rotatable to sequentially position the reservoir wells at one or more wash positions. The method can also include at least partially filling a reagent pipette with the reagent mixture from one of the reservoir wells while at least one of the reservoir wells is located at the wash position(s). The reagent pipette assembly can partially aspirate multiple reagents from either one of the reservoir wells (pre-mixed) or multiple wells for a single or multiple shot dispense onto one or more slides. After at least partially filling the reagent pipette with reagent, the method can further include robotically moving the reagent pipette toward the microscope slide and dispensing the reagent onto the microscope slide. In yet further embodiments, the method can include rotating the carousel such that one of the reservoir wells containing reagent (e.g., excess or residual reagent) is located at the wash position, and washing the reservoir well at the wash position to remove the reagent.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0015] The following description and examples illustrate some arrangements which are not part of the claimed invention. The same reference numerals refer to like parts or acts throughout the various views, unless otherwise specified.

    Figure 1 is an isometric view of a specimen processing system.

    Figure 2 is an exploded isometric view of the specimen processing system of Figure 1. Portions of a protective housing are shown removed.

    Figure 3 is an elevational view of a pipette apparatus with a mixing station.

    Figure 4 is an isometric view of a carousel in accordance with an embodiment of the disclosed technology.

    Figure 5 is a top plan view of the carousel of Figure 4.

    Figure 6 is a cross-sectional view of the carousel taken along line 6-6 of Figure 5.

    Figure 7 is a detailed view of a portion of the carousel of Figure 6.

    Figure 8 is a bottom perspective view of the carousel in accordance with an embodiment of the disclosed technology.

    Figures 9A-9D illustrate stages of operation of the pipette apparatus.

    Figure 10 is a detailed view of a portion of the specimen processing system of Figure 2.

    Figure 11 is an isometric view of a slide ejector assembly.

    Figure 12 is an isometric view of the slide ejector assembly of Figure 11 with protective plates shown removed.

    Figures 13 and 14 are side views of the slide ejector assembly of Figure 11 with a slide carrier shown in different positions.

    Figure 15 is an isometric view of a slide staging device of a slide ejector assembly with a slide ready to be removed.

    Figure 16 is an isometric view of an empty slide staging device.

    Figures 17 and 18 are top plan views of a slide staging device with an alignment device.

    Figures 19 and 20 are isometric views of a slide ejector assembly with a protective plate shown removed.

    Figure 21 is a top plan view of the slide ejector assembly of Figures 19 and 20.

    Figure 22 is an isometric view of a slide staging device of a slide ejector assembly with a slide ready to be removed.

    Figure 23 is an isometric view of the slide staging device of Figure 22 illustrating components of an alignment device.

    Figures 24A and 24B are top plan views of a slide staging device with an alignment device.

    Figures 24C and 24D are enlarged views of the alignment device of Figure 24B.

    Figures 25 and 26 are side views of a slide staging device and a transfer assembly.

    Figure 27 is a block diagram illustrating a method for transferring a specimen slide using the specimen processing system.

    Figure 28 is an isometric view of an opposable dispenser.

    Figure 29 is a side view of the opposable dispenser of Figure 28.

    Figure 30 is an isometric view of a transport assembly and a specimen processing station.

    Figure 31 is a side view of a transport assembly ready to deliver an opposable and a slide to a specimen processing station.

    Figure 32 is a side view of an opposable actuator holding an opposable.

    Figure 33 is an isometric view of a specimen processing station ready to process a specimen on a slide.

    Figure 34A is a front, top, left side isometric view of a slide holder platen holding a slide.

    Figure 34B is a front, top, left side isometric view of the slide holder platen of Figure 34A ready to hold a slide.

    Figure 35 is a front, bottom, left side isometric view of the slide holder platen of Figure 34A.

    Figure 36 is a bottom view of the slide holder platen of Figure 34A.

    Figure 37A is a cross-sectional isometric view of the slide holder platen taken along a line 37A-37A of Figure 36.

    Figure 37B is a cross-sectional view of the slide holder platen taken along a line 37B-37B of Figure 36.

    Figure 38 is a top plan view of a specimen processing station holding a specimen-bearing slide.

    Figure 39 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of the specimen processing station taken along a line 39-39 of Figure 38.

    Figure 40 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of the specimen processing station taken along a line 40-40 of Figure 38.

    Figure 41 is a cross-sectional view of a slide holder platen taken along a line 41-41 of Figure 38.

    Figure 41A is a plot of location along a contact surface of a slide support versus thermal energy conducted to a slide.

    Figure 41B is a plot of location along the contact surface of the slide support versus temperature of the contact surface.

    Figure 41C is a plot of location along an upper surface of a slide versus temperature of the upper surface of the slide.

    Figure 42 is a top plan view of heating zones produced on a slide support surface of the support element.

    Figure 43 is a flow chart illustrating a method for heating a slide.

    Figure 44 illustrates a slide holder platen and a dispenser assembly.

    Figure 45 is a perspective view of a slide holder platen.

    Figure 46 is a top view of the slide holder platen shown in Figure 45.

    Figure 47 is a perspective view of the slide holder platen in accordance with the disclosed technology, shown without a slide.

    Figure 48 is a partially exploded view of the slide holder platen.

    Figure 49 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of a portion of the slide holder platen shown in Figure 48.

    Figure 50 is a perspective view of a sealing member.

    Figure 51 is a cross-sectional end view of the sealing member of Figure 50 shown in an uncompressed configuration and a compressed configured (shown in phantom lines).

    Figure 52A is a top view of the sealing member of Figure 50.

    Figures 52B-52D are top views of sealing members.

    Figure 53 is a cross-sectional side view of a portion of the slide holder platen before the slide has engaged the sealing member.

    Figure 54 is a cross-sectional side view of a portion of the slide holder platen after the slide has been positioned on the slide holder platen.

    Figure 55 is an enlarged view of a portion of the slide holder platen shown in Figure 54.

    Figure 56 is an enlarged, top view of a portion of the slide holder platen showing the sealing member in contact with trench walls.

    Figure 57 is a plot of equilibrium volume of a liquid on a slide versus total evaporation rate of the liquid.

    Figure 58 is a plot of time versus liquid coverage.

    Figures 59A and 59B are side and top views of a narrowed band of liquid at an end of a gap between an opposable and a slide.

    Figures 60A and 60B are side and top views of the spread band of liquid.

    Figures 61A and 61B are side and top views of the band of liquid contacting a biological specimen.

    Figures 62A and 62B are side and top views of the band of liquid between the opposable and a region of the slide adjacent to a label.

    Figures 63A and 63B are side and top views of the narrowed band of liquid at an end of a gap adjacent to a label of the slide.

    Figure 64 is an isometric view of an opposable.

    Figure 65 is a top plan view of the opposable of Figure 64.

    Figure 66 is a side elevational view of the opposable of Figure 64.

    Figure 67 is a detailed view of a portion of the opposable of Figure 66.


    DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF DRAWINGS



    [0016] Figure 1 shows a specimen processing system 100 ("system 100") including a protective housing 120, a slide carrier parking station 124 ("parking station 124"), an opposable carrier loading station 130 ("loading station 130"), and reagent parking stations 140, 142. The system 100 can automatically process specimen-bearing slides using opposables loaded via the loading station 130 to perform, for example, specimen conditioning (e.g., cell conditioning, washing, deparaffinizing, etc.), antigen retrieval, staining (e.g., H&E staining), or other types of protocols (e.g., immunohistochemistry protocols, in situ hybridization protocols, etc.) for preparing specimens for visual inspection, fluorescent visualization, microscopy, microanalyses, mass spectrometric methods, imaging (e.g., digital imaging), or other analytical or imaging methods. The system 100 can simultaneously process 20 specimen-bearing slides using the same or different protocols to provide processing flexibility and a relatively high throughput. The specimens can remain on the slides throughout processing (e.g., baking through staining) for convenient handling and preventing cross-contamination.

    [0017] The protective housing 120 inhibits, limits, or substantially prevents contaminants from entering an internal processing environment. The protective housing 120 can include a cover 146 that can be opened to access internal components, including, without limitation, robotic components (e.g., robotic arms), transport devices (e.g., conveyors, actuators, etc.), fluidic components, specimen processing stations, slide platens, mixing components (e.g., mixing wells, reagent trays, etc.), slide carrier handling components, opposable carrier handling components, dryers, pressurization devices (e.g., pumps, vacuum devices, etc.), or the like.

    [0018] The parking station 124 includes a row of bays. A slide carrier in the form of a basket is positioned in a left bay 148. Each bay can be configured to receive other types of slide carriers, such as racks, baskets, trays, or other types of carriers suitable for carrying slides before, during, or after specimen processing. The illustrated parking station 124 includes 12 bays separated by dividers. The number of bays, positions of bays, bay orientations, and bay configurations can be selected based on the types of slide carriers to be used.

    [0019] The loading station 130 includes a receiving opening 150 through which a user can load an opposable carrier. The opposable carrier can be a magazine that holds a stack of opposable elements. Otherwise, the opposable carriers can be cartridges, or other portable structures for carrying opposables.

    [0020] The parking stations 140, 142 each includes a row of bays. Each bay can hold one or more containers, including bulk reagent containers, bottles, bag-in-box reagent containers, or the like. The parking station 142 can hold bulk liquid containers that provide liquids used in larger volumes, such as wash solutions. Empty containers in the parking stations 140, 142 can be conveniently replaced with full containers.

    [0021] Fluid movement into, out of, and within specimen processing stations can be controlled by a fluidics module that includes, for example, pumps, valves, and filters. A pneumatics module can supply pressurized air and generate vacuums to perform various slide processing operations and to move fluids throughout the system 100. Waste can be delivered to a waste drawer 143. Figure 2 shows the waste drawer 143 holding waste containers 149A, 149B. The pneumatics module can deliver waste from the specimen processing stations to the containers 149A, 149B, which can be emptied periodically.

    [0022] A controller 144 can command system components and can generally include, without limitation, one or more computers, central processing units, processing devices, microprocessors, digital signal processors (DSPs), application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), readers, and the like. To store information, the controller 144 can include, without limitation, one or more storage elements, such as volatile memory, non-volatile memory, read-only memory (ROM), random access memory (RAM), or the like. The stored information can include heating programs, optimization programs, tissue preparation programs, calibration programs, indexing programs, mixing programs, or other executable programs. Optimization programs can be executed to optimize performance (e.g., enhance heating, reduce excess reagent consumption, increase productivity, enhance processing consistency, or the like). The processing may be optimized by determining, for example, an optimum schedule to (1) increase processing speeds, (2) reduce the time of heating or cooling cycles, (3) increase throughput (e.g., increase the number of slides processed in a certain length of time), and/or (4) reduce reagent waste. The controller 144 can determine loading sequences for loading the specimen processing stations to reduce processing times and to determine loading sequences of the dispensers. This saves time because fluids can be dispensed onto the next specimen-bearing slide as soon as a specimen-bearing slide is removed from the specimen processing station. The controller 144 can determine sequences for mixing and dispensing reagent using the mixing station 165.

    [0023] Figure 2 is an isometric exploded view of the specimen processing system 100 including a processing station 163, a slide ejector assembly 200, an opposable dispenser 380, and a specimen return mechanism 157. The processing station 163, the slide ejector assembly 200, and the opposable dispenser 380 are positioned at the left side of an internal environment 121. The specimen return mechanism 157 is positioned at the right side of the internal environment 121. A mixing station 165 is positioned generally below the specimen return mechanism 157 and can include reservoirs (e.g., reservoir wells). Reagents can be mixed in the mixing station 165. Otherwise, the mixing station 165 can hold containers (e.g., vials, beakers, etc.) in which substances are stored and/or mixed. A row 152 of 20 specimen processing stations can independently process biological specimens.

    [0024] In operation, a user can load slide carriers carrying specimen-bearing slides into the empty bays of the parking station 124 of Figure 1 and can load opposable carriers carrying opposables into the loading station 130. The slide carriers can be transferred to a reader (e.g., a label reader, a barcode reader, etc.), not shown that reads labels, if any, on the slides. The slide carriers can be delivered to the processing station 163 which can include, without limitation, a dryer (e.g., a dehydration unit), a heating unit (e.g., a baking module), or other component capable of removing water from the slides, heating specimens (e.g., heating specimens to adhere the specimens to the slides), or the like. The processing station 163 can blow hot air over slides to dry the slides, and if the specimens contain paraffin, the hot air can soften the paraffin to promote adhesion of the specimens to the slides. An air system can partially recirculate air to control the humidity in the processing station 163. Slide carriers can be picked up and transported from the processing station 163 to another module (e.g., a specimen processing station, a label reader, etc.) or returned to one of the bays of the parking station 124.

    [0025] The specimen return mechanism 157 can load specimen-bearing slides into a slide carrier. The loaded slide carriers can be transported to the parking station 124. If the slide carriers are compatible with an automated coverslipper, a user can transport the slide carriers from the parking station 124 to an automated coverslipper for coverslipping. Alternatively, the slides can be manually coverslipped. The coverslipped slides can be analyzed using optical equipment, e.g., a microscope or other optical devices.

    [0026] Figure 3 is an elevational view of a pipette apparatus 172 in accordance with an embodiment of the disclosed technology. The pipette apparatus 172 can serve as a staging area to provide improved stain characteristics, significantly increase processing capacity, or otherwise enhance processing. The pipette apparatus 172 can prepare and hold volumes of reagent (e.g., individual reagents and/or reagent mixtures). Reactive reagents can be mixed immediately before dispensing to enhance stain consistency and quality, especially for reagents that react immediately upon mixing. Because reagents can be staged well before they are needed, the pipette apparatus 172 can increase slide processing capabilities and is well suited for use with high-volume automated slide processing systems. Additionally, the pipette apparatus 172 can occupy a relative small space and provide mix and wash functionality independent of slide processing.

    [0027] Generally, the pipette apparatus 172 can include a mixing station 165, a reagent pipette assembly 175, and a wash pipette assembly 176. The mixing station 165 can include a carousel 177 and a drive mechanism 184 for rotating the carousel 177 about an axis of rotation 181. The carousel 177 can include a circular array of reservoir wells 180 (one identified) configured to hold volumes of reagent. The drive mechanism 184 can rotate (indicated by arrows 186) the carousel 177 to position the reservoir wells 180 relative to the reagent pipette assembly 175 and/or wash pipette assembly 176. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can partially or completely fill the reservoir wells 180 with fresh reagent from a filling station 209 (e.g., a reagent bay) and can also dispense reagent from the reservoir wells 180 onto microscope slides. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can also wash and/or rinse the reservoir wells or perform other operations. The wash pipette assembly 176 can wash the reservoir wells 180 by, for example, rinsing the reservoir wells 180 with wash liquid and vacuuming liquid (e.g., wash liquid, reagent, etc.) out of the reservoir wells 180. Fresh reagents can be mixed in the washed reservoir wells 180.

    [0028] Figure 4 is a front top isometric view of the carousel 177 in accordance with an embodiment of the disclosed technology. Figure 5 is a top plan view of the carousel 177. Referring to Figures 4 and 5 together, the carousel 177 can include reservoir wells 180 (one identified), a ramp 182, and a drain 183. The reservoir wells 180 can be angularly spaced (evenly or unevenly) about the drain 183, and each reservoir well 180 can hold a sufficient volume of liquid for one or multiple dispense steps in a staining protocol. Each reservoir well 180 can have a holding capacity in a range of about 200 µL to about 450 µL. Each reservoir well 180 can have a holding capacity of about 350 µL. Otherwise, different reservoir wells 180 can have different holding capacities to prepare different volumes of reagent mixtures. The holding capacities of the reservoir wells 180 can be selected based on the desired volume of reagent mixtures to be dispensed. A group of reservoir wells 180 (e.g., four reservoir wells) can correspond to a particular slide and/or slide processing station to prevent cross-contamination. In a staining protocol utilizing a set number of reagent mixtures, reservoir wells (e.g., adjacent reservoir wells 180) can be used to prepare and hold the reagent mixtures. The carousel 177 can include multiple arrays of wells positioned at different locations relative to the drain 183. For example, multiple circular arrays of reservoir wells can be positioned at different radii from the center drain radii of the center drain 183.

    [0029] The reservoir wells 180 can be in generally vertical orientations (e.g., longitudinal axes of the reservoir wells can be oriented vertically) to access to the bottoms of the reservoir wells 180 using vertically-oriented pipettes. The reservoir wells 180 may be circular (Figure 5), oval, elliptical, combinations thereof, or other shapes without sharp corners for convenient rinsing/cleaning. The illustrated carousel 177 has multiple reservoir wells 180 (e.g., forty reservoir wells 180) to allow rapid processing of a relatively large number of slides (e.g., up to about one hundred slides or more), but the carousel 177 can have a greater or a lesser number of reservoir wells 180 to increase or decrease the number of slides serviced by the carousel 177. The geometry (e.g., circular, elliptical, etc.), pattern (e.g., circular array, elliptical array, etc.), number, and orientations of the reservoir wells 180 can be selected based on the number of slides, staining protocols, and operation of the reagent pipette assembly 175 and/or wash pipette assembly 176.

    [0030] The ramp 182 can extend between the reservoir wells 180 and the drain 183. Overflow liquid (e.g., reagent, wash liquid, or mixtures thereof) escaping the reservoir wells 180 can flow along an upper surface 185 of the ramp 182 and through the drain 183. The upper surface 185 can slope downwardly toward the drain 183 and have a shape (e.g., a generally frusto-conical shape) for promoting radially inward flow. The upper surface 185 can help keep the flows from two or more reservoir wells 180 separate to inhibit or limit mixing of the flows to avoid or mitigate unintended chemical reactions. The ramp 182 can have flow channels, grooves, or other features that help overflow liquid flow toward the drain 183.

    [0031] Referring now to Figure 4, the carousel 177 can include spillways 187 (one identified) configured to allow overflow liquid to automatically drain from the reservoir wells 180. The spillways 187 can prevent cross-contamination by preventing well to well flooding. During a wash cycle, the reservoir wells 180 can be flooded with wash liquid (e.g., water, deionized water, washing solution, etc.) without affecting adjacent reservoir wells 180. The spillway 187 can include overflow partitions 189 (two identified in Figures 4 and 5) and an overflow wall 190. Each partition 189 can be positioned between adjacent reservoir wells 180.

    [0032] Figure 6 is a cross-sectional view of the carousel 177 taken along line 6-6 of Figure 5. Figure 7 is a detailed view of a portion of the carousel 177. Referring now to Figure 7, the partition 189 can prevent splattering liquid from reaching nearby reservoir wells and can include an outer portion 192 and an inner portion 194. The partition 189 can be positioned between the center of an adjacent reservoir well 180 and other reservoir wells (e.g., 1/5, 1/4, of 1/3 of the total number of reservoir wells 180). During a wash cycle, wash liquid may tend to spray and/or splatter, and the partition 189 can block such spray/splatter, thereby preventing cross-contamination between wells. The dimensions and configurations of the partitions 189 can be selected to keep the reservoir wells fluidically isolated from one another.

    [0033] The outer portion 192 can be positioned directly between two reservoir wells and can extend upwardly past a spillway entrance in the form of a rim 196 of the wall 190. The outer portion 192 can extend upwardly past the rim 196 a sufficient distance to prevent well to well flooding. For example, the height H of the outer portion 192 can be in a range of about 3 mm to about 7 mm. Other heights can be used, if needed or desired. The inner portion 194 can be a generally vertically-oriented wall that extends inward (e.g., toward the center of the carousel 177). A length 199 of the inner portion 194 can be generally equal to the height H to prevent directing liquid (e.g., rinse liquid or reagent) toward an unintended well at the risk of cross contamination. The length L of the partition 189 can be equal to or greater than the diameter D of the reservoir well 180. For example, a ratio of the length L to the diameter D can be equal to or greater than 1.25, 1.5, 2, or 2.5.

    [0034] The reservoir well 180 has a generally smooth sidewall 193 (e.g., a cylindrical sidewall or other shaped sidewall without sharp corners) and a bottom 195 (Figure 6) that define a chamber capable of holding a desired a volume, for example, 250 µL, 350 µL, or 450 µL. Figure 7 shows a fluid level line 198 (illustrated in phantom line) of a desired volume of reagent. When excess liquid is delivered to the reservoir well 180, the liquid can rise above the entrance 196 of the spillway 180 and cause flooding. As shown in Figure 7, the liquid 201 (illustrated in phantom line) can flow over the wall 190 and along the upper surface 185. Referring now to Figure 6, the liquid 201 can exit the carousel 177 via the drain 183, which can be sufficiently large to accommodate fluid draining from multiple reservoir wells. Flooding can intentionally occur to rinse the reservoir wells and may unintentionally occur, for example, if excess reagent is dispensed into one of the reservoir wells.

    [0035] Figure 7 shows stops 313 (one identified) that limit the maximum depth of plunge of pipettes to prevent damage to the carousel 177 that could be caused by, for example, an over-insertion of the pipette. The stops 313 can be circumferentially spaced apart from each other and can extend upwardly a sufficient distance 315 to prevent the wash pipette 213 and/or reagent pipette 204 from contacting the reservoir well bottom 195. For example, a head assembly carrying the pipette can strike the stop 313 before the pipette carried by the head assembly damages the carousel 177. Other types of stops can be used to position or limit movement of the pipettes.

    [0036] Figure 8 is a bottom perspective view of the carousel 177 that includes a mounting bayonet 205 and an alignment feature 207. The mounting bayonet 205 can be coupled to a drive shaft of a drive mechanism (e.g., drive mechanism 184 of Figure 4) and can include one or more positioners 218. Otherwise, the outer surface of the carousel 177 can be used to rotate the carousel 177. For example, a drive wheel can engage the outer surface of the carousel 177 such that rotation of the drive wheel causes rotation of the carousel 177. The positioners 218 can be flanges, ribs, or other features matable with the drive shaft of the drive mechanism. The alignment feature 207 can be used to visually, mechanically, electro-mechanically, and/or opto-mechanically align the carousel 177. The alignment feature 207 can be a notch or a cutout that receives an alignment protrusion of the drive mechanism. Otherwise, the alignment feature 207 can be a protrusion or other visually (including optically) identifiable feature for convenient identification and orientation of the carousel 177. Tthe alignment feature 207 can be used to clock the carousel 177 such that individual reservoir well 180 positions are known by the control system (e.g., controller 144). A top edge or surface 231 can be located at a critical distance from the bottom of a skirt 235 in which it resides, such that if a sensor (e.g., an optical sensor) does not identify the alignment feature 207, then the user will be immediately notified that the carousel 177 is improperly installed. The carousels described herein can be conveniently removed from drive mechanism 184 to wash it or replace it, and the alignment feature 207 can be used to reinstall the carousel 177 on the drive mechanism 164. One side of the alignment feature 207 can be detected and used to notify the operator if the carousel 177 is not properly installed.

    [0037] A one-piece carousel can have a unitary construction and can be formed by a molding process, machining process, or other suitable process. For example, the carousel 177 can be monolithically formed by an injection molding process. In multi-piece arrangements, the carousel 177 can have a carousel main body and separate spillways and reservoir wells that are installed in the carousel main body. The configuration of the carousel 177 can be selected based on the desired functionality of the carousel 177.

    [0038] Figures 9A-9D show operation of the pipette apparatus 172. Generally, the reagent pipette assembly 175 can sequentially deliver fresh reagents to the reservoir wells 180 to produce reagent mixtures. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can deliver such reagent mixtures onto slides at slide processing stations. The carousel 177 can be rotated to sequentially position the reservoir wells 180 at a wash position for washing by the wash pipette assembly 176. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can mix reagents while the wash pipette assembly 176 washes reservoir wells 180 to reduce overall processing times. Otherwise, reagent mixing and reservoir well washing may be performed at different times. A pipette cleaner 251 can wash (e.g., using wash liquid), vacuum, blow off, or otherwise clean the pipette 204 between each trip to the filling station 209 to prevent cross contamination of the reagents. The pipette cleaner 251 can also clean the pipette 213 between wash operations. Operation of the reagent pipette assembly 175, wash pipette assembly 176, and mixing station 165 are detailed below.

    [0039] Figures 9A-9C show one method of utilizing the reagent pipette assembly 175. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can have different types of pipettes, valves, and sensors, and can be similar or identical to the pipette dispensers 160, 162 depicted in Figure 2. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can include a positioning mechanism with one or more rail/carriage assemblies, motors (e.g., drive motors, stepper motors, etc.), drive elements (e.g., chains, belts, etc.), or other features for providing motion. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can obtain fresh reagents, stage reagents, and dispense reagents onto microscope slides. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can move the reagent pipette 204 to, for example, a filling position (see Figure 9A) at the filling station 209, an unload/load position (Figure 9B) for either dispensing reagent into one of the reservoir wells 180 or loading the pipette 204 with reagent from one of the reservoir wells, and a dispense position (Figure 9C) for dispensing reagent onto a slide at a slide processing system.

    [0040] Referring now to Figure 9A, the reagent pipette assembly 175 in a reagent load state of operation can insert the pipette 204 into one of the containers 211 at the filling station 209 and can draw a desired volume of fresh reagent 227. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can draw a vacuum provided by a pressurization device 221. The pressurization device 221 can include one or more vacuum sources, pumps, or other devices capable of providing a desired vacuum level or positive pressure. The containers 211 can be, without limitation, vials, bottles, jars, or other containers suitable for holding substances used to process specimens. The illustrated filling station 209 has three containers 211, but a greater or lesser number of containers can be used, and the filling station 209 can be part of a parking station, such as the parking stations 140, 142 of Figure 1. For example, the containers 211 can be installed in the bays of the parking stations 140, 142 of Figure 1 and can be accessed by the reagent pipette assembly 175, which is movable through the internal environment 121 of Figure 2.

    [0041] Figure 9B shows the reagent pipette assembly 175 after the reagent pipette 204 has been filled with reagent. The pipette 204 is positioned to deliver the reagent into the reservoir well 180 identified in Figure 9B. The pressurization device 221 can provide positive pressure to dispense the reagent. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can obtain additional reagent from the filling station 209 and dispense it into the same reservoir well 180 to produce a reagent mixture.

    [0042] Referring to Figures 9B and 9C, to dispense a reagent mixture held by the carousel 177, the reagent pipette 204 can be inserted into the reagent well 180 and filled with a desired volume of the reagent mixture. Figure 9C shows the loaded reagent pipette 204 dispensing the reagent mixture onto a microscope slide 156 at a processing station 245. The reagent pipette assembly 175 can repeatedly obtain reagent from the mixing station 165 and dispense the reagent onto the slide 156 or other slides at other processing stations.

    [0043] Figures 9C and 9D illustrate stages of a washing process performed by the wash pipette assembly 176. Generally, the reservoir wells 180 can be washed by, for example, dispensing wash liquid so as to flood the reservoir wells 180 and removing (e.g., sucking out) wash liquid, as well as any residual reagent, left in the reservoir wells 180. The wash pipette assembly 176 can include a vacuum source 237 and a pressurization device 239 connected to a wash head assembly 241 by lines 247, 249, respectively. The drive assembly 184 can rotate the carousel 177 to position the reservoir well 180 at a wash position under the wash pipette 233.

    [0044] Figure 9D shows the wash pipette 233 after it has been lowered into one of the reservoir wells. Wash liquid can be delivered through the wash pipette 213 to dilute reagent, if any, in the reservoir well, flush the reservoir well, and/or otherwise rinse or wash the reservoir well. The vacuum source 237 can be activated and the wash pipette 213 can suck out most or substantially all of the reagent in the reservoir well 180. The reservoir well 180 can then be flooded with wash liquid that flows (indicated by arrows) in a controlled manner to the drain 183. The flooding process can remove most or substantially all of the volume of residual reagent within the reservoir well 180. After flushing the reservoir well 180, the vacuum source 237 can be activated again to clear the reservoir well. Otherwise, prior to aspirating, the reservoir well can be flooded with wash liquid that flows (indicated by arrows) in a controlled manner to the drain 183. The flooding process can remove most or substantially all of the volume of reagent within the reservoir well. After flushing the reservoir well, the vacuum source 237 can be activated and the wash pipette 213 can suck out most or substantially all of the liquid (e.g., wash liquid, a mixture of wash liquid and reagent, etc.) left in the reservoir well 180. The pipette 213 can then be raised, and the drive mechanism 184 can rotate the carousel 177 to position another reservoir well at the wash position (e.g., underneath the wash pipette 213). The pipette cleaner 251 (Figure 9A) can periodically clean the outside of pipette 213. Otherwise, two or more pipettes can be used in the wash process. For example, one wash pipette can be used to dispense wash liquid and another wash pipette can suck residual liquid from the reservoir wells. Yet otherwise, the reagent pipette assembly 175 can be used to perform wash cycles by rinsing out the reservoir wells 180.

    [0045] The controller 144 of Figure 9D can be configured to command the drive mechanism 184 to sequentially move each of the reservoir wells 180 to the washing position for washing by the wash pipette assembly 176. The controller 144 can store instructions in memory 147 (illustrated in phantom line) and execute the instructions to command the pipette apparatus 172 to sequentially fill the reservoir wells 180 with reagent from the containers 211. Additionally or alternatively, memory 147 can store mixing instructions (e.g., a mixing program) that are executable by the controller 144 to command the wash pipette assembly 176 to deliver at least two reagents (e.g., two reagents, three reagents, etc.) to one of the reservoir wells. The mixing instructions can be selected based on information obtained from the slide to be processed. The controller 144 can be communicatively coupled to any or all of the components of the pipette apparatus 172.

    [0046] The system 100 of Figures 1 and 2 can include one or more pipette apparatuses 172 discussed in connection with Figures 3-9D. The system 100 can have mixing stations 165 at opposite sides of the internal environment 121 (Figure 2). The wash pipette assemblies can be stationary with vertically movable wash pipettes to avoid collisions between the wash pipettes and the reagent pipettes, which can be moved about the mixing stations. The mixing stations 165 can be serviced by a single reagent pipette assembly and a single wash pipette assembly. Otherwise, each mixing station 165 can be served by respective reagent pipette assemblies and wash pipette assemblies. The number of mixing stations, positions of the mixing stations, and sequence of operation of the reagent pipette assembly and wash pipette assembly can be selected based on the processes to be performed.

    [0047] Figure 10 is a detailed view of a section of the row 152. An opposable element 154 ("opposable 154") can move substance along a slide 156 to contact a specimen on the slide 156. As illustrated, 20 slides can be processed independently using a series of substances.

    [0048] If a specimen is a biological sample embedded in paraffin, the sample can be deparaffinized using appropriate deparaffinizing fluid(s). After removing the deparaffinizing fluid(s), any number of substances can be successively applied to the specimen using the opposable 154. Fluids can also be applied for pretreatment (e.g., protein-crosslinking, exposing nucleic acids, etc.), denaturation, hybridization, washing (e.g., stringency washing), detection (e.g., linking a visual or marker molecule to a probe), amplifying (e.g., amplifying proteins, genes, etc.), counterstaining, or the like. The substances can include, without limitation, stains (e.g., hematoxylin solutions, eosin solutions, or the like), wetting agents, probes, antibodies (e.g., monoclonal antibodies, polyclonal antibodies, etc.), antigen recovering fluids (e.g., aqueous- or non-aqueous-based antigen retrieval solutions, antigen recovering buffers, etc.), solvents (e.g., alcohol, limonene, or the like), or the like. Stains include, without limitation, dyes, hematoxylin stains, eosin stains, conjugates of antibodies or nucleic acids with detectable labels such as haptens, enzymes or fluorescent moieties, or other types of substances for imparting color and/or for enhancing contrast. The applied substance can be a liquid reagent applied via dispensers, such as pipette dispensers 160, 162 depicted in Figure 2 or reagent pipette assembly 175 depicted in Figures 3-9D.

    [0049] A biological specimen can include one or more biological samples. Biological samples can be a tissue sample or samples (e.g., any collection of cells) removed from a subject. The tissue sample can be a collection of interconnected cells that perform a similar function within an organism. A biological sample can also be any solid or fluid sample obtained from, excreted by, or secreted by any living organism, including, without limitation, single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, yeast, protozoans, and amebas, multicellular organisms (such as plants or animals, including samples from a healthy or apparently healthy human subject or a human patient affected by a condition or disease to be diagnosed or investigated, such as cancer). A biological sample can be mountable on a microscope slide and includes, without limitation, a section of tissue, an organ, a tumor section, a smear, a frozen section, a cytology prep, or cell lines. An incisional biopsy, a core biopsy, an excisional biopsy, a needle aspiration biopsy, a core needle biopsy, a stereotactic biopsy, an open biopsy, or a surgical biopsy can be used to obtain the sample.

    [0050] Figure 10 shows a rack carrying a set of sealed containers 211 each holding about 10mL to about 30mL of reagent. The sealed containers 211 have caps 151 with seal elements in the form of septums 153 that can minimize, limit, or substantially prevent evaporation losses. The septums 153 can be broken (e.g., pierced, torn, etc.) to access the contents of the containers 211. When the user installs the containers 211, septums 153 can be broken to establish fluid communication with a pump or pipette (e.g., the reagent pipette 204 of Figures 9A-9D), which in turn delivers the fluid to an appropriate specimen processing station. The containers 211 can include, without limitation, one or more human readable labels, machine readable labels (e.g., a barcode to be read by the system 100), or other types of labels. The parking station 140, can provide fluids and solutions that are used in smaller volumes (e.g., dye solutions, such as hematoxylin and eosin solutions).

    [0051] Figures 11 and 12 show a slide carrier 170 loaded into a slide ejector assembly 200 ("ejector assembly 200"). A plate 216 of Figure 11 is shown removed in Figure 12. The ejector assembly 200 includes a slide carrier handler 202 ("carrier handler 202"), a slide staging device 210 ("staging device 210"), and an ejector 212. The carrier handler 202 can include a carrier receiver 220 (Figure 12) and a receiver rotator device 224 (Figure 12). The carrier receiver 220 includes a pair of spaced apart arms 226 (e.g., elongate members, cantilevered members, etc.) upon which the slide carrier 170 can rest. The illustrated slide carrier 170 is a slide rack capable of holding microscope slides in a spaced-apart arrangement. One slide is shown in the carrier 170 of Figures 11 and 12. The slide carrier 170 can be a basket, such as a SAKURA® basket or similar basket with shelves or dividers.

    [0052] The carrier receiver 220 of Figure 12 can include one or more grippers, clamps, retainers, or other components that releasably hold slide carriers. The receiver rotator device 224 can include, without limitation, one or more motors, actuation devices, or other components capable of rotating the arms 226. The arms 226 can move along an arcuate track, a pivoting mechanism, or the like to rotate the slide carrier 170. The carrier handler 202 can further include a carriage 230 and a rail 232. The carriage 230 can travel along the rail 232 to move the slide carrier 170 vertically.

    [0053] Referring again to Figure 11, a fully or partially loaded slide carrier can be inserted between the plates 214, 216. The receiver rotator device 224 (Figure 12) can rotate the carrier receiver 220 from a loading position 213 (Figure 11) in which slides are held in a substantially vertical orientation to an intermediate position 215 (Figure 13) in which slides are held in a substantially horizontal orientation. The term "substantially horizontal" generally refers to an angle within about +/-3 degrees of horizontal, for example, within about +/-1 degree of horizontal, such as within about +/-0.8 degrees of horizontal. The slide carrier 170 can be moved vertically to an unloading position 217 (Figure 14). The ejector 212 can sequentially move the specimen-bearing slides to the staging device 210. The staging device 210 can position the specimen-bearing slide for subsequent transport, as discussed in connection with Figures 15-18.

    [0054] Figures 15 and 16 are isometric views of the staging device 210 including a standby platform 240 and an alignment device 242. The standby platform 240 can include a cantilevered plate 248, a slide holding region 250 ("holding region 250"), and an over-travel inhibitor 254. In Figure 15, a slide 243 is resting on the holding region 250, which can be a raised region that is smaller than the slide 243. The slide 243 can protrude outwardly from the holding region 250 such that excess fluid, if any, can drain from the slide 243 onto the plate 248 without wicking underneath the slide 243 (e.g., between the slide 243 and a surface 361 of Figure 16). The standby platform 240 can include, without limitation, one or more sensors, readers, heaters, dryers, or other components that facilitate processing of the slides.

    [0055] Referring to Figure 16, the over-travel inhibitor 254 can accurately position a slide without physically contacting specimens on the slide, label edges, and/or other areas of the slide that may affect positioning accuracy. The over-travel inhibitor 254 can position a slide without contacting the top of the slide at locations, for example, near overhanging labels, which can effect positioning accuracy. The over-travel inhibitor 254 includes a vacuum port 290 and a vacuum source 281 fluidically coupled to the vacuum port 290 via one or more fluid lines 283 (e.g., internal fluid lines, external fluid lines, etc.). The vacuum source 281 can include, without limitation, one or more pressurization devices, pumps, or other types of devices capable of drawing a vacuum via an opening 310. A bottom surface of the slide 243 (Figure 15) and a contact surface 300 of the vacuum port 290 can form a seal to maintain the vacuum. The contact surface 300 can comprise one or more compressible materials (e.g., rubber, silicon, or the like) capable of maintaining an airtight seal. Otherwise, the contact surface 300 can comprise one or more non-compressible materials (e.g., aluminum, stainless steel, etc.) and may include one or more sealing members (e.g., O-rings, gaskets, sealing cups, etc.) used to form a seal with the slide 243. Further, the contact surface 300 and/or the vacuum port 290 can include a pressure sensor or other sensor for detecting the presence of a slide 243 on the standby platform 240.

    [0056] The holding region 250 includes ends 320, 322 and a main body 328 extending between the ends 320, 322. An ejector stop 314 is defined by the end 320 and can be used to reference the position of an end of the slide 243. The ejector stop 314 can be a sidewall or edge of the end 320. Otherwise, the ejector stop can be one or more protrusions.

    [0057] As illustrated in Figures 16-18, the staging device 210 includes the alignment device 242. The alignment device 242 can include a pair of generally parallel jaws 270, 272 that protrude upwardly through openings 277, 279, respectively, and vertically past the holding region 250. The alignment device 242 can include, without limitation, one or more actuators (e.g., pneumatic actuators, electromechanical actuators, etc.) capable of moving the jaws 270, 272. The alignment device 242 can align the slide to facilitate slide pickup and handling because a transfer head may be unable to properly pick up and handle a misaligned slide. A label of the slide can be spaced apart from the jaws 270, 272 to prevent unwanted adherence of the slide to the jaws 270, 272.

    [0058] Figure 17 shows a longitudinal axis 271 of the slide 243 in a misaligned position. The longitudinal axis 271 is not parallel to a longitudinal axis 273 of the holding region 250. The jaws 270, 272 can move from an open position (Figure 17) toward one another (indicated by arrows 280, 282) to a closed position (Figure 18) so as to reposition the slide 243. The longitudinal axis 271 of the slide 243 in an aligned position can be substantially aligned (e.g., parallel) with the longitudinal axis 273 of the holding region 250. After aligning the slide 243, the jaws 270, 272 can be returned to the open position and the slide 243, now aligned, can be picked up. The configuration and operation of the alignment device 242 can be selected based on the desired position of the aligned slide. Additionally, the alignment device 242 can be used to align slides having different dimensions because the jaws 270, 272 apply the same force to opposing sides of the slide.

    [0059] Figures 19-21 show the ejector 212, which includes an ejector element 330, a base 334, and a drive mechanism 336. The ejector element 330 includes an elongate portion 340 positioned in a recess 341 in the base 334 and a mounting portion 342 coupled to a rod 344 of the drive mechanism 336. The drive mechanism 336 can provide reciprocating linear motion and can comprise, without limitation, one or more stopper motors, pistons (e.g., pneumatic pistons, hydraulic pistons, etc.), pressurization devices (e.g., pumps, air compressors, etc.), sensors, or the like. The illustrated rod 344 has been moved in the direction indicated by arrow 350 to move the ejector element 330 from a first or initial position 351 (illustrated in phantom line in Figure 21) across a slide carrier receiving gap 352 ("gap 352") such that a head 360 of the elongate portion 340 pushes a slide onto the standby platform 240. The head 360 can comprise a compliant material (e.g., rubber, plastic, etc.) to avoid damaging the slides. The head 360 can push the slide along the surface 361 (Figure 16) of the holding region 250 until the slide is at the desired location. Slides can be removed from the slide carrier 170 one at a time until the slide carrier 170 is empty.

    [0060] Referring again to Figures 1 and 2, a user can load a slide carrier holding specimen-bearing slides into the parking station 124. A transfer mechanism can transport the slide carrier to the ejector assembly 200. The transfer mechanism can include, without limitation, one or more robotic handlers or arms, X-Y-Z transport systems, conveyors, or other automated mechanisms capable of carrying items between locations. The transfer mechanism can include one or more end effectors, grippers, suction devices, holders, clamps, or other components suitable for gripping the slide carrier.

    [0061] The ejector assembly 200 moves the slide carrier 170 to the unloading position 217 (Figure 14). The slide carrier 170 is moved vertically to index slides relative to a reference position. The reference position can be a plane (e.g., a fixed slide removal plane 275 shown in Figure 14) defining a slide removal position. A bottom of the slide to be removed can be generally coplanar or slightly above the surface 361 (Figure 16). The drive mechanism 336 can move the ejector element 330 horizontally to move the elongate portion 340 (Figure 19) through the carrier 170 to push the slide onto the surface 361 (Figure 15). A vacuum can be drawn by the slide over-travel inhibitor 254 to inhibit movement of the slide 243 as the head 360 contacts the ejector stop 314 (Figure 16). The head 360 can then be moved away from the slide 243. The jaws 270, 272 can be moved from the open position to the closed position to align the slide 243. The aligned slide 243 can be retrieved and transported to a specimen processing station. The drive mechanism 336 can move the ejector element 330 back and forth and the slides can be indexed to sequentially deliver all of the slides to the staging device 210.

    [0062] To protect the specimens, the lowermost slide in the slide carrier 170 can be ejected first. By starting with the lowermost slide, the specimen(s) on the vertically adjacent slide can be facing away from the head 360 and therefore protected. If the head 360 is vertically misaligned with the slide to be removed, the head 360 may strike the bottom of the vertically adjacent slide without dislodging the specimen(s) on the upper surface of the vertically adjacent slide. After removing the lowermost slide, the lowermost slide left in the slide carrier 170 can be removed. This process can be repeated until the slide carrier 170 is empty. Other indexing sequences can be used to remove the slides.

    [0063] The empty slide carrier 170 can be returned to the loading position (Figure 11) and then transported to one of the bays of the parking station 124. The empty slide carrier 170 can be removed from the parking station 124 and filled with specimen-bearing slides and returned to the parking station 124. Alternatively, the empty slide carrier 170 can be filled with processed specimen-bearing slides using the ejector assembly 200. A pusher assembly can be used to push processed specimen-bearing slides on the staging device 210 into a slide carrier. Thus, the ejector assembly 200 can be used to both unload and load slide carriers.

    [0064] Figures 22-26 illustrate a staging device 210a of a slide ejector assembly 200a. Figures 22 and 23 are isometric views of the staging device 210a that includes features generally similar to the features of the staging device 210 described above with reference to Figures 16-18. For example, the staging device 210a includes a standby platform 240a (similar to standby platform 240 shown in Figure 16) having a cantilevered plate 248a, a slide holding region 250a ("holding region 250a"), and an over-travel inhibitor 254a (similar to over-travel inhibitor 254 shown in Figure 16). The staging device 210a also includes an alignment device 242a configured to move the slide 243 from a misaligned position on the standby platform 240a to an aligned position. However, in Figures 22 and 23, the alignment device 242a does not include a pair of generally parallel jaws 270, 272 (Figure 16) that protrude upwardly through openings 277, 279 (Figure 16) in the standby platform 240a.

    [0065] As illustrated in Figure 22, the alignment device 242a includes a first aligning member 362 for engaging a first edge 244 of the slide 243 and a second aligning member 364 positioned opposite the first aligning member 362 for engaging a second edge 245 of the slide 243. Engagement of the first and second sides 244, 245 of the slide 243 can pivot or otherwise move the slide 243 from an unaligned orientation on the slide holding region 250a to an aligned orientation on the holding region 250a to facilitate slide pickup and handling by a transfer apparatus (not shown).

    [0066] Referring to Figure 23, the first and second aligning members 362, 364 are secured to blocks 365, 366 by first and second fasteners 367, 368 (e.g., pins, bolts, screws or other mechanical fasteners known to those in the art). For example, the blocks 365, 366 can include holes 369, 370 for receiving the fasteners 367, 368, respectively. The blocks 365, 366 can further include one or more protrusions 371, 372 for allowing rotation or pivoting of the aligning members 362, 364 and for engaging the first and second aligning members 362, 364, respectively, to limit rotation or pivoting of the aligning members 362, 364 with respect to the blocks 365, 366 and/or during engagement with the slide 243 (described below). Openings 373, 374 (one identified) can be disposed in the aligning members 362, 364 for receiving the protrusions 371, 372. Otherwise, protrusions may be provided on the aligning members 362, 364 that are receivable in openings provided in the blocks 365, 366. The protrusions 371, 372 may be non-circular having a rectangular or other geometrical shape. The openings 373, 374 can be shaped to accommodate the corresponding geometrical shape of the protrusions 371, 372, or as illustrated in Figure 23, the openings 373, 374 can be through-holes that receive the protrusions 371, 372.

    [0067] The alignment device 242a can include, without limitation, one or more actuators (e.g., pneumatic actuators, electromechanical actuators, etc.) capable of moving the blocks 365, 366 having the aligning members 362, 364 secured thereto toward and away from a longitudinal axis 273a of the holding region 250a (shown in Figures 24A and 24B). For example, Figures 24A and 24B are enlarged top views of the staging device 210a illustrating stages in a process for aligning a longitudinal axis 271a of the slide 243 with the longitudinal axis of 273a of the holding region 250a. Figure 24A shows the longitudinal axis 271a of the slide 243 in a misaligned position. The longitudinal axis 271a is not parallel to the longitudinal axis 273a of the holding region 250a. The first and second aligning members 362, 364 can move from an open position (Figure 24A) toward one another (indicated by arrows 375, 376) to a closed position (Figure 24B) where the aligning members 362, 364 engage or come in contact with the first and second sides 244, 245 of the slide 243 to reposition the slide.

    [0068] The first and second aligning members 362, 364 together may contact the slide 243 at three separate points of contact. As illustrated in Figures 24B and 24C, the first aligning member 362 has a first contact region 377 and a second contact region 378 configured to engage the first edge 244 of the slide 243. As illustrated in Figures 24B and 24D, the second aligning member 364 has a third contact region 379 configured to engage the second edge 245 of the slide 243. The area of the point of contact can be the portion of the slide 243 engaged by the first, second and third contact regions 377, 378, 379. In some arrangements, the points of contact are relatively small, discrete portions of the slide 243 (e.g., along the first and second edges 244, 245). The surface areas defined by the three points of contact and engaged by the first, second and third contact regions 377, 378, 379 may be approximately the same; however, otherwise, the surface areas can vary. The third contact region 379 can be configured to contact the second edge 245 of the slide 243 in a lateral position along the slide 243 that is between the lateral positions contacted by the first contact region 377 and second contact region 378 on the first edge 244 of the slide 243.

    [0069] Referring to Figure 24B, when the first and second contact regions 377, 378 of the first aligning member 362 and the third contact region 379 of the second aligning member 364 engage the first and second sides 244, 245 of the slide 243, respectively, the slide 243 can move (e.g., pivot about a midpoint or axis of rotation 246 created or defined by the three separate contact points) to an aligned position. Movement of the first and second alignment members 362, 364 via blocks 365, 366 can continue until the slide 243 is engaged by the first, second and third contact regions 377, 378 and 379 and the slide 243 no longer moves (e.g., comes to rest on the holding region 250a in an aligned position). The first and second aligning members 362, 364 may include one or more pressure sensors 381 (Figures 24C and 24D) on or adjacent to one or more contact regions 377, 378, 379 to ensure that the aligning members 362, 364 are applying a sufficient amount of force to move the slide 243 and/or are not compressing the slide 243 in a manner that could break or compromise the slide. The contact regions 377, 378, 379 may include a coating and/or a compliant material (e.g., rubber, plastic, etc.) to avoid damaging the slides.

    [0070] While Figures 24A-24D show the first aligning member 362 having the first contact region 377 and the second contact region 378 and the second aligning member 364 having the third contact region 379, or other arrangements can be used. For example, the second aligning member 364 can include two contact regions and the first aligning member 362 may include one contact region. Further, while the aligning members 362, 364 are illustrated as having an irregular shaped geometry for providing first, second and third contact regions 377, 378, 379. other geometries may be suitable for providing first, second and third contact regions. The aligning members 362, 364 may provide more than three separate (e.g., discrete) contact regions for engaging the slide 243.

    [0071] Referring back to Figure 24B, the longitudinal axis 271a of the slide 243 in an aligned position can be substantially aligned (e.g., parallel) with the longitudinal axis 273a of the holding region 250a. After aligning the slide 243, the aligning members 362, 364 can disengage the slide 243 and be returned to the open position by moving the blocks 365, 366 in a direction opposite to the direction of the arrows 375, 376 (Figure 24A). Optionally, the staging device 210a may include sensors 382 or other signaling device for determining the presence of the slide 243 on the standby platform 240a and/or determining when the longitudinal axis 271a is substantially aligned with the longitudinal axis 273a (Figure 24B). For example, the standby platform 240a and/or the holding region 250a may include position sensors, pressure sensors, light sensors and the like for determining the relative position of the slide 243 with respect to the holding region 250a. Similar to the configuration and operation of the alignment device 242 (Figures 16-18), the alignment device 242a can be configured to align slides having different dimensions and align them to a desired position on the standby platform 240a.

    [0072] After aligning the slide 243, the slide can be retrieved and transported to a specimen processing station (not shown). Figures 25 and 26 illustrate a portion of a transport assembly 410 having a slide transfer head 412 ("transfer head 412") configured to pick up the aligned slide 243 from the standby platform 240a while maintaining the proper alignment. Referring to Figure 25, the transfer head 412 includes a plurality of head alignment features 413 (e.g., 2 head alignment features) on a lower surface 415 of the transfer head 412. Head alignment features 413 can include, without limitation, pins (e.g., elongate rods), protrusions, openings (e.g., openings defined by bushings, openings in plates, etc.), or the like. The head alignment features 413 can be in the form of alignment pins (e.g., first and second alignment pins) that can be inserted into corresponding alignment features 414 (shown individually as 414a and 414b) on the staging device 210a (e.g., on cantilevered plate 248a), illustrated in Figures 22 and 25. The head alignment features 413 can be openings and the corresponding alignment features 414 may be upwardly protruding pins. The transfer head 412 can be a floating head (e.g., a floating head that does not contact the staging device 210a) to limit or prevent binding between the head alignment features 413 and the corresponding alignment features 414. The transfer head 412 and/or the staging device 210a can include position sensors (not shown) to ensure proper alignment of the head alignment features 413 with respect to the corresponding alignment features 414.

    [0073] The transfer head 412 can also include one or more capture features 416. The capture feature 416 can include, without limitation, one or more suction devices (e.g., suction cups, pumps, vacuum pumps, etc.), mechanical grippers (e.g., jaws, clamps, pinchers, magnets, etc.), or other retention features that, for example, prevent dropping and/or transferring the slide 243 in a misaligned state. For example, the transfer head 412 can include a vacuum port 417 on the lower surface 415. A vacuum source 418 can provide suction at the vacuum port 417 via supply line 419 that is capable of picking up the slide 243 from the staging device 210a and holding the slide during further transport. The vacuum can be reduced and/or eliminated to release the slide 243 following transfer. Sensors 405 (e.g., pressure sensors, air pressure sensors, light sensors, etc.) can be provided on the lower surface 415 and/or within the vacuum port 417, the vacuum source 418 and/or the supply line 419 that detect the presence of a slide 243 retained by the transfer head 412.

    [0074] Figure 25 shows the transfer head 412 in a non-engaged position above the staging device 210a during an alignment phase of the slide transfer. The head alignment feature 413 is shown aligned with the corresponding alignment feature 414a. Figure 26 shows the transfer head 412 lowered (e.g., via a drive mechanism, not shown) in an engaged position above the staging device 210a. The head alignment feature 413 (e.g., pin) is shown received within the opening of the corresponding alignment feature 414a. The vacuum port 417 is shown engaged with an upper surface 247 of the slide 243 (e.g., a label of the slide 243) such that when the vacuum source 418 is activated (e.g., by controller 144 of Figures 1 and 2) and the over-travel inhibitor 254a associated with standby platform 240a is disengaged (e.g., vacuum provided by stage vacuum source 281a is reduced and/or eliminated), the slide 243 can be picked up by the transfer head 412. The slide 243 can be removed from the staging device 210a as the transfer head 412 is lifted to the non-engaged position above the staging device 210a. As illustrated in Figure 26, the head alignment features 413 align with the corresponding alignment features 414 such that the slide 243 can be maintained in the aligned position during slide pickup. After removing the slide 243 from the staging device 210a, the transfer head 414 can transport the slide 243 to the specimen processing station (not shown).

    [0075] Figure 27 is a block diagram illustrating a method 1000 for transferring a specimen slide using the specimen processing system 100 described above and with reference to Figures 19-26. With reference to Figures 19-27 together, the method 1000 can include moving a specimen slide 243 from a slide carrier 170 (Figure 14) to the standby platform 240a of the staging device 210a (block 1002). The slide 243 can be moved using the ejector 212 by engaging the ejector element with the slide 243 to push the slide onto the slide holding region 250a of the standby platform 240a. The method 1000 can also include drawing a vacuum through the over-travel inhibitor 254a to stop forward movement of the slide 243 on the slide holding region 250a (block 1004). The method 1000 can further include detecting the presence of the slide 243 on the holding region 250a (block 1006). The presence of the slide 243 can be detected by the controller 144 by changes in the vacuum suction of the over-travel inhibitor 254a. For example, sensors 403 (Figures 25 and 26) can be provided to detect the change in pressure within the vacuum port 290, fluid lines 283 and/or vacuum source 281 (see Figure 16). The presence of the slide on the standby platform 240a can be detected using other sensors 382 (e.g., pressure sensors, light sensors, motion sensors, etc.). For example, the standby platform 240a can include one more sensors 382 (e.g., position sensors, pressure sensors, light sensors) for detecting the presence of the slide 243. The method 1000 can also include aligning the slide 243 from an misaligned position to an aligned position (block 1008). For example, an actuator can move aligning members 362, 364 toward the slide 243 such that first, second and third contact regions 377, 378, 379 engage the slide to move the slide to the aligned position. Following alignment of the slide 243, the actuator can move the aligning members 362, 364 back to a starting position and away from the aligned slide. The method 1000 can further include transporting the slide 243 from the standby platform 240a to, for example, a specimen processing station while maintaining alignment of the slide (block 1010). For example, a transport assembly 410 having a transfer head 412 can be aligned with the standby platform 240a via alignment of the head alignment features 413 on the transfer head 412 with corresponding alignment features 414 on the standby platform 240a. The transfer head 412 can be configured to engage, pick up and transport the slide 243 with the capture feature 416. The capture feature 416 can use a vacuum provided by the vacuum source 418 via the vacuum port 417.

    [0076] Figures 28 and 29 show an opposable dispenser 380 that includes an opposable carrier holder 384 ("holder 384") and a conveyor system 390. A transfer mechanism can transport opposable carriers from the loading station 130 (Figure 1) to the holder 384. As illustrated, the holder 384 can be configured to hold four magazines 391a, 391b, 391c, 391d (collectively "391"), each holding 30 opposables, to provide an on-board capacity of 120 opposables. Otherwise, the dispenser 380 can hold a higher or lower number of magazines or other type of opposable carriers.

    [0077] The conveyor system 390 includes a carriage 393, a rail 396, and an actuation mechanism 398. The actuation mechanism 398 can include an actuator (e.g., a piston assembly, a pneumatic cylinder, etc.) that moves a vertical lift 404 to raise and/or lower the magazines 391. The carriage 393 can carry a lowered opposable magazine to an unload position at the end of the rail 396. Figures 28 and 29 show an empty magazine 394 at the unload position. The vertical lift 404 moves up to retrieve the next magazine 391 and the carriage 393 moves the empty magazine 394 underneath the stack of magazines 391. The carriage 393 can release the empty magazine 394 such that the magazine 394 falls down a chute 397 to a storage bin 399 (illustrated in phantom line).

    [0078] Figure 30 shows a transport assembly 420 and a specimen processing station in the form of a slide processing station in the form of a wetting module 430. Slides can be individually processed at the wetting module 430 to avoid carryover of liquids, excessive waste (e.g., reagent waste), and/or reagent degradation to provide consistent processing. The wetting module 430 can use an opposable element 470 to motivate liquids to enhance processing consistency, reduce processing times, and allow processing with low concentration reagents. Relatively low volumes of reagents can be used to uniformly stain specimens. Relatively low volumes of washing solutions can be used to thoroughly wash specimens in a relatively short period of time. Washing cycles can be performed before, between, and after staining cycles. After processing of the specimen, the transport assembly 420 can replace the used opposable 470 with a new opposable 457 and replace the used slide 243 with a new slide 458.

    [0079] The transport assembly 420 can include, without limitation, a drive mechanism 434 (e.g., a rack drive mechanism, a belt drive mechanism, etc.) and a lift mechanism 440. The drive mechanism 434 can move the lift mechanism 440 horizontally, as indicated by arrows 450, 452. The lift mechanism 440 can move end effectors in the form of transfer heads 454, 456 vertically, as indicated by arrows 462, 464. The transfer heads can include, without limitation, one or more suction devices (e.g., suction cups, pumps, vacuum pumps, etc.), mechanical grippers (e.g., jaws, clamps, etc.), retention features (e.g., features that prevent dropping of slides/opposables), or the like. For example, the transfer head 454 can be a pickup head (e.g., a rotatable or floating pickup head) capable of picking up and holding an opposable 457 via a vacuum. The vacuum can be reduced (e.g., eliminated) to release the opposable 457. Additionally or alternatively, a mechanical gripper can hold the opposable 457.

    [0080] Figure 31 shows the transfer heads 454, 456 delivering the opposable 457 and slide 458, respectively, to the wetting module 430. The transfer head 456 includes head alignment features 490, 492 receivable by complementary alignment features 500, 502 (Figure 30) of the standby platform 240 and/or alignment features 510, 512 (Figure 30) of the wetting module 430. Alignment features can include, without limitation, pins (e.g., elongate rods), protrusions, openings (e.g., openings defined by bushings, openings in plates, etc.), or the like. The alignment features 490, 492 may be in the form of pins that can be inserted into corresponding alignment features 510, 512 in the form of openings to align the slide 243 with the wetting module 430. The transfer head 456 can be a floating head to limit or prevent binding between the alignment features 490, 492 and the alignment features 510, 512, respectively. Otherwise, the alignment features 490, 492 can be openings and the alignment features 510, 512 may be upwardly protruding pins.

    [0081] After removing the processed slide 243, the transfer head 456 can transport an unprocessed slide 458 from a staging device to the wetting module 430. The alignment features 490, 492 can be positioned above the alignment features 510, 512, and the transfer head 456 can be lowered to insert the alignment features 490, 492 into the alignment features 510, 512, respectively, until the slide 458 rests on the wetting module 430. The transfer head 456 can release the slide 458. After processing the specimen, the transfer head 456 can retrieve and load another slide into the wetting module 430. The slides can be retained at the wetting module 430 to prevent damage to the slide in the event of a power outage or other event that may affect system performance.

    [0082] After removing the used opposable 470, the transfer head 454 can deliver the opposable 457 to an opposable receiver 480. Once the opposable 457 is positioned above the wetting module 430, the transfer head 454 can rotate the opposable 457 from a substantially horizontal orientation (Figure 30) to a substantially vertical orientation (Figure 31). The opposable 457 in the substantially horizontal orientation can define an angle less than 5 degrees with an imaginary horizontal plane, and an opposable in the substantially vertical orientation can define an angle less than 5 degrees with an imaginary vertical plane. The vertically oriented opposable 457 can be loaded into the opposable receiver 480. The transfer head 454 can remove used opposables and retrieve unused opposables from an opposable carrier (e.g., the opposable carrier holder 384 of Figures 28 and 29) and can load the unused opposables into the opposable receiver 480.

    [0083] Figure 32 shows an opposable actuator 525 that includes the opposable receiver 480 and a drive mechanism 530. The opposable receiver 480 can include a clamp 536 and a main body 540. The clamp 536 includes a pair of jaws 542A, 542B that cooperate to hold a mounting end 950 of the opposable 470. The opposable 470 includes a main body 541 extending to a captivating end 543. The main body 541 is pivotally coupled to the drive mechanism 530 by a pivot 550. The drive mechanism 530 can include a linkage assembly 560 and a linear actuator assembly 562. The linkage assembly 560 includes the pivot 550, which allows rotation about one or more axes of rotation (e.g., two axes of rotation) and can include one or more roller ball bearings, pivots, hinges, or other features that provide desired motion. The linear actuator assembly 562 can include an energizable drive device 570 (e.g., a stepper motor, a drive motor, a solenoid, etc.), a moveable element 572 (e.g., a lead screw, a drive rod, etc.), and a rail assembly 574 (e.g., a carriage/rail assembly, a caged ball bearing linear rail assembly, etc.).

    [0084] The opposable receiver 480 can be actuated by the linear actuator assembly 562 via the linkage assembly 560. The linear actuator assembly 562 can retract, and stationary cam(s) (e.g., cam 575 of Figure 33) can engage, pins 576, 578 and drive the opposable receiver 480 to an open configuration. As illustrated embodiment in Figure 32, the opposable receiver 480 in the open configuration can loosely hold the opposable 470. The opposable receiver 480 can be moved to a closed configuration by one or more biasing members (e.g., springs, pneumatic actuators, etc.). As the linear actuator assembly 562 extends, the pins 576, 578 can move upwardly and toward one another such that the biasing members close the opposable receiver 480.

    [0085] The opposable actuator 525 can also include, without limitation, one or more sensors to detect the presence of the opposable 470, the position of the opposable 470, one or more characteristics of a processing liquid engaged by the opposable 470, or the like. The sensors can include, without limitation, contact sensors, electromechanical sensors, optical sensors, or chemical sensors that can be coupled to or incorporated into the opposable receiver 480 or other suitable component. The number, positions, and configurations of the sensors can be selected to achieve the desired monitoring functionality.

    [0086] Figure 33 is an isometric view of the wetting module 430 holding the slide 243. The wetting module 430 includes the opposable actuator 525, a slide holder platen 601, and a manifold assembly 606. The opposable actuator 525 in a rolling state of operation can be extended or retracted to roll the opposable 470 back and forth along the slide 243. The motion of the rotary joints of the linkage assembly 560 (Figure 32), gravity, and/or liquid capillary forces can help maintain the desired motion of the opposable 470. The opposable actuator 525 can continuously or periodically roll (e.g., longitudinally roll, laterally roll, or both) the opposable 470 to agitate the volume of liquid, move (e.g., translate, spread, narrow, etc.) a band of liquid (e.g., a meniscus layer of liquid), control evaporation (e.g., to moderate evaporation), and/or otherwise manage the processing liquid.

    [0087] The manifold assembly 606 includes a pair of sensors 620a, 620b (collectively "620") and a one or more valves 630. The sensors 620 can detect the pressures of working fluids and can send one or more signals indicative of detected pressures. A fluid line 638 can fluidically couple a pressurization source 640 to a manifold 641. Fluid lines 642, 644 fluidically couple the manifold 641 to a liquid removal device 655 and the slide holder platen 601. The liquid removal device 655 can remove liquid between the opposable 470 and the slide 243 via a waste port 643. The line 644 can be used to draw a vacuum to hold the slide 243 on the slide holder platen 601.

    [0088] Figures 34A and 34B are isometric views of the slide holder platen 601. The slide holder platen 601 of Figure 34A supports the slide 243. The slide holder platen 601 of Figure 34B is empty. The slide holder platen 601 can include a support element 650 and a mounting base 651. The support element 650 includes a raised slide receiving region 680 having a contact or contact surface 679 (Figure 34B). A port 683 (Figure 34B) is positioned to draw a vacuum to hold the slide 243 against the contact surface 679. The port 683 can be a suction cup or other feature configured to facilitate drawing a strong vacuum between the slide 243 against the contact surface 679.

    [0089] The support element 650 includes inner walls 681 positioned in outer walls 652 of the mounting base 651. The inner and outer walls 681, 652 form heatable sidewalls 682. The sidewalls 682 can be positioned on both sides of the contact surface 679 and can output heat energy to the surrounding air to control the temperature of the slide 243, processing fluid, and/or specimen(s). The sidewalls 682 can also be positioned to laterally surround the entire slide 243. The mounting base 651 can be made of an insulating material (e.g., plastic, rubber, polymers, or the like) that can insulate the support element 650 from other components. The mounting base 651 is made of a material with a thermal conductivity that is substantially less than the thermal conductivity of the material of the support element 650. The mounting base 651 can surround and protect the support element 650 and includes a coupling region 657 to which the opposable actuator 525 can be coupled.

    [0090] The support element 650 can be an uncoated element comprising one or more low heat transfer material(s) with a low thermal conductivity. Low heat transfer materials can include, without limitation, steel, stainless steel, or other materials with a thermal conductivity in a range of about 10 W/(m*K) at 25°C to about 25 W/(m*K) at 25°C. The low heat transfer material may comprise stainless steel with a thermal conductivity of 16 W/(m*K) at 25°C. The support element 650 may comprise mostly stainless steel by weight. At least most of the material of the support element 650 directly between a heating element 653 (Figure 35) and the slide 243 may comprise stainless steel by weight. The stainless steel support element 650 can be corrosion-resistant to the liquids used to process the specimens to provide a relatively long working life. The support element 650 may comprise antimony (k =18.5 W/(m*K) at 25°C) or chrome nickel steel (e.g., 18% Cr and 8% Ni by weight and with a thermal conductivity of about 16.3 W/(m*K) at 25°C). Otherwise, the support element 650 can comprise lead with a thermal conductivity of about 35 W/(m*K) at 25°C) or other metal with a similar thermal conductivity. The support element 650 can be made of a material with thermal conductivity less than copper or brass. The mounting base 651 can be made of an insulating material with a thermal conductivity that is less than the thermal conductivity of the support element 650. As such, the mounting base 651 can thermally insulate the support element 650.

    [0091] Figure 35 is a front, bottom, left side view of the slide holder platen 601. Figure 36 is a bottom view of the slide holder platen 601. The slide holder platen 601 can include the heating element 653, which can convert electrical energy to thermal energy and can include, without limitation, one or more traces, leads, resistive elements (e.g., active elements that produce thermal energy), fuses, or the like. The heating element 653 can be a resistive heater. Other types of heaters can also be used, if needed or desired. The heating element 653 can output thermal energy to the support element 650 to achieve a desired heat transfer pattern. Heat can be transferred non-uniformly to the slide 243 via the support element 650 to compensate for evaporative heat losses. Non-uniform heat transfer along the contact surface 679 may produce a non-uniform temperature profile along the contact surface 679. A generally uniform temperature profile can be produced across a processing zone 671 (Figure 34A) of slide 243. The processing zone 671 can be a staining region, a mounting region, or area of an upper or specimen-bearing surface 687 (Figure 34A) of the slide 243 suitable for carrying one or more specimen(s).

    [0092] The heating element 653 of Figure 36 can include two elongate slide heating portions 660a, 660b (collectively 660) and two end heating portions 665a, 665b (collectively "665"). The elongate portions 660 deliver thermal energy to the longitudinally extending edge portions of the slide 243. The end heating portions 665 deliver thermal energy to the ends of the processing zone 671. The elongate portions 660 and the end heating portions 665 can be coupled together to form a multi-piece heating element 653. The elongate portions 660 and the end heating portions 665 can be made of materials with the same conductivity or different thermal conductivities. Each portion 660, 665 can be independently operated to output different amounts of thermal energy. Otherwise, the heating element 653 can have a one-piece construction with a uniform thickness or a variable thickness. The one-piece heating element 653 can be made of one material.

    [0093] The elongate portions 660 and end heating portions 665 together define a convection cooling feature in the form of a pocket 670. The pocket 670 can help isolate heat in the support element 650 to help keep thermal energy at the location it is applied and can also help reduce or limit the thermal mass of the slide holder platen 601. The pocket 670 can be an opening with a substantially rectangular shape, as shown in Figure 36. However, the pocket 670 can have other shapes based on the desired heat distribution along the contact surface 679 of the support element 650.

    [0094] Figure 37A is a cross-sectional isometric view of the slide holder platen 601. The support element 650 includes the receiving region 680, sidewalls 682, and a channel 684. The receiving region 680 keeps the slide 243 spaced apart from fluids that can collect in the channel 684 during operation. The channel 684 can collect liquid that falls from edges 813, 815 of the slide 243. The slide 243 can extend outwardly from the receiving region 680 a sufficient distance (e.g., 0.5mm, 0.75mm, 1mm, 2mm, 4mm, or 6mm) to prevent liquid from wicking between the slide 243 and the contact surface 679.

    [0095] The slide holder platen 601 can be made in a multi-step manufacturing process. The support element 650 can be formed by a machining process, stamping process, or the like. The support element 650 can be over-molded to form the mounting base 651, which can be made of an insulating material molded using an injection molding process, compressing molding processes, or other suitable manufacturing processes. Exemplary non-limiting insulating materials include, without limitation, plastics, polymers, ceramics, or the like. The support element 650 and mounting base 651 can remain securely coupled together to inhibit or prevent liquids from traveling between the support element 650 and mounting base 651. For example, the interface between the supporting element 650 and the mounting base 651 can form a fluid-tight seal with or without utilizing any sealants. However, sealants, adhesives, and/or fasteners can be used to securely couple the support element 650 to the mounting base 651. The illustrated support element 650 includes locking features 690, 692 to help minimize, limit, or substantially prevent movement of the support element 650 relative to the mounting base 651.

    [0096] Figure 37B is a cross-sectional view of the slide holder platen 601. The opposable 470 engages a liquid 802 which engages a specimen 807. The sidewalls 682 can extend vertically past the slide 243. The distance that the sidewalls 682 extend vertically past the slide 243 can be selected to manage (e.g., limit, minimize, substantially prevent, etc.) air currents that can cause heat losses via convection (e.g., convection via the surrounding air), evaporation, or the like. For example, the slide holder platen 601 and opposable 470 can moderate evaporation by keeping the evaporation rate of the liquid 802 at or below about 7 microliters per minute, 5 microliters per minute, 3 microliters per minute or other maximum evaporation rates. The slide holder platen 601 and opposable 470 can keep the evaporation rate of the liquid 802 within a range of about 7 microliters per minute to about 1 microliters per minute. Such arrangements can moderate evaporative losses. The sidewalls 682 and the opposable 470 help substantially thermally isolate the specimen from the surrounding environment. Additionally, the sidewalls 682 can heat the air proximate to the specimen to help prevent the liquid 802 from being cooled by surrounding air and to inhibit or help prevent condensation.

    [0097] A side portion 811 of the opposable 470 extends outwardly past the edge 813 of the slide 243 such that the side portion 811 is closer to the sidewall 682 than the edge 813 of the slide 243. A width WG1 of a gap 819 can be smaller than a distance D1 from the side portion 811 to the slide edge 813. A side portion 812 of the opposable 470 extends outwardly past the edge 815. A width WG2 of a gap 817 can be smaller than a distance D2 from the side portion 812 to the slide edge 815. The width WG1 can be equal to or less than about 10%, 25%, or 50% of a distance between the left sidewall 682 and the edge 813. Similarly, width WG2 can be equal to or less than about 10%, 25%, or 50% of a distance between the right sidewall 682 and the slide edge 815. The widths WG1, WG2 can be sufficiently small to inhibit or limit evaporative losses while allowing slight side-to-side movement of the opposable 470 to facilitate convenient handling. The widths WG1, WG2 can be equal to or less than about 1mm, 2mm, 4mm, or other suitable widths.

    [0098] Figure 38 is a top plan view of the wetting module 430. Figure 39 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of the wetting module 430 taken along a line 39-39 of Figure 38. Figure 40 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of the wetting module 430 taken along a line 40-40 of Figure 38. Referring to Figures 38 and 39, a sensor 694 is positioned to detect liquid in a reservoir 697. The sensor 694 can include a thermistor element 695 positioned near a bottom 696 of the reservoir 697. When a sufficient volume of liquid is collected to contact the thermistor element 695, the sensor 694 sends a signal to the controller 144 (Figure 2). The detection of a threshold volume of liquid in the reservoir 697 can indicate a failure in the wetting module 430. Upon detection of a failure, the wetting module 430 can be disabled until the wetting module 430 can be, for example, inspected, cleaned, or otherwise maintained.

    [0099] Referring to Figures 39 and 40, the wetting module 430 includes a convection system 700 that includes a flow generator 710, a duct 711, and a flow path 712 (illustrated in phantom line) defined by a passageway 713 of the duct 711. The flow generator 710 can include, without limitation, one or more fans, blowers, or other suitable components capable of generating a sufficient flow of a convection fluid (e.g., air, a refrigerant, etc.) along the flow path 712 to cool the back side of the support element 650, the slide 243, and/or items (e.g., specimens, reagents, or the like) carried on the slide 243.

    [0100] The flow generator 710 can deliver the convection fluid toward an end 730 of the support element 650 located under a first end 732 of the slide 243. The convection fluid can travel vertically through a tapered section 720 that can accelerate the flow of convection fluid. The accelerated flow is directed horizontally and flows under the slide platen 601. The convection fluid can directly contact the support element 650 to facilitate and expedite cooling of the slide 243. For example, the convection fluid can flow into and along the pocket 670 to absorb thermal energy from the support element 650. The support element 650 absorbs thermal energy from the slide 243 to cool the upper surface 687 and to ultimately cool a liquid, specimen(s), or any other items or substances on the upper surface 687. The warmed fluid flows past the pocket 670 and proceeds under an end 750 of the support element 650 positioned underneath a label end 752 of the slide 243. The air flows downwardly through an outlet 760 to the surrounding environment.

    [0101] The convection system 700 can be used to rapidly cool the slide 243. For example, the convection system 700 can help cool the liquid and/or specimen at a rate equal to or greater than about 2.5°C/sec. The temperature of a specimen can be at about 95°C and can be cooled to a temperature equal to or less than about 30°C in about four minutes or less. Other cooling rates can be achieved by increasing or decreasing the flow rate of the convection fluid, temperature of the convection fluid, or the like. During a heating cycle, the convention system 700 can be OFF, if desired.

    [0102] Figure 41 is a cross-sectional view of a portion of the slide holder platen 601 taken along a line 41-41 of Figure 38. The temperature of the liquid 802 can be maintained within a target temperature range selected based on the characteristics of the liquid 802, characteristics of a specimen (e.g., a thickness of the specimen, composition of the specimen, etc.), and the process to be performed. Because the regions of the liquid 802 nearest the edges of the slide 243 evaporate more than the central region of the liquid 802, the periphery of the slide 243 and the periphery of the liquid 802 tend to be at a lower temperature without compensation. The evaporative heat losses for high temperature processes (e.g., antigen retrieval) may be greater than the evaporative losses for low temperature processes (e.g., rinsing). Because significant temperature variations along the specimen 807 and/or the liquid 802 can lead to variations in processing, the wetting module 430 can maintain a desired temperature profile of the slide 243 by compensating for evaporative heat losses, including evaporative heat losses in high temperature and low temperature processes. The wetting module 430 can produce a substantially uniform temperature profile along the surface 687 to substantially uniformly heat the band of liquid 802 and/or the specimen 807. The uniform temperature profile can be maintained independently of changes in the surrounding environment to consistently process the entire specimen 807.

    [0103] Figure 41A is a plot of the location along the width of the receiving region 680 versus thermal energy conducted to the slide 243. Figure 41B is a plot of the location along the width of the receiving region 680 versus a temperature of the contact surface 679 of the support element 650. Figure 41C is a plot of a location along the upper surface 687 of the slide 243. A comparison of Figures 41B and 41C shows that the temperature profile along the contact surface 679 of the support element 650 is different from the temperature profile along the upper surface 687 of the slide 243.

    [0104] Referring to Figure 41A, the heating element 653 can non-uniformly transfer heat energy via conduction to the slide 243. The heat remains concentrated at the perimeter of the staining region where evaporative heat losses are relatively high. Because no heat energy is directly transferred via conduction to the portion of the support element 650 above the pocket 670, a non-uniform temperature profile is produced along the contact surface 679 of the support element 650 and can compensate for non-uniform heat losses associated with evaporation of the liquid 802. The compensation can produce a substantially uniform temperature profile along the upper slide surface 687. As shown in Figure 41C, a temperature along the upper slide surface 687 can be kept within a target temperature range (represented by two horizontal dashed lines). For antigen retrieval, the substantially uniform temperature profile can have a temperature variation that is equal to or less than 5% of the desired temperature and can be across most of the upper slide surface 687. The upper slide surface 687 can be kept at, for example, an average temperature or target temperature of about 95°C and within a range of about 90.25°C and about 99.75°C. The heater element 653 can produce less than about a 4% temperature variation across most of the upper slide surface 687. Otherwise, there can be less than 5% temperature variation across most of the upper slide surface 687. The upper slide surface 687 can be kept at, for example, an average temperature of about 95°C and within a range of about 92.63°C and about 97.38°C. An allowable temperature variation can be inputted by a user.

    [0105] Figure 42 is a top view of heating zones. A high heating zone 820 surrounds an intermediate heating zone 824. The intermediate heating zone 824 surrounds a low heating zone 822. Heat from the heating element 653 primarily travels upwardly to define the high heating zone 820. The high heating zone 820 can be located underneath a perimeter of a staining area of the slide 243. The low heating zone 822 can generally correspond to the pocket 670 and the central processing area (e.g., a staining area) where one or more specimens are typically positioned. The temperature of the heating zones 820, 822, 824 can be generally inversely proportional to the rates of evaporation along the slide directly above that heating zone. For example, the low heating zone 822 can be positioned generally below the middle of the band of liquid 802 in which there is substantially no evaporative losses. The high heating zone 820 is positioned generally below the periphery of the band of liquid 802 that experiences relatively high evaporative losses.

    [0106] Figure 43 is a flow chart illustrating a method 900 for heating the slide. At 901, the specimen-bearing slide 243 (Figure 34A) can be positioned on the contact surface 679 of the support element 650 (Figure 34B). The slide 243 can be preheated by the slide holder platen 601. A liquid can be delivered onto the heated slide 243. Alternatively, the slide holder platen 601 can heat the slide 243 after delivering the liquid.

    [0107] At 902, the opposable 470 is used to manipulate the liquid and can mitigate and control evaporation, which in turn can affect temperature, concentration, and capillary volume. The liquid may be allowed to evaporate, resulting in heat losses and/or changes in concentration of the liquid 802. A dispenser can deliver supplemental liquid at desired times to keep the volume of the liquid in a desired range, maintain a desired concentration of the liquid, or the like. If the current volume of the liquid is lower than the target equilibrium volume, the controller can instruct the dispenser to deliver liquid until the current volume of the liquid reaches the equilibrium volume. If the current volume of the liquid is higher than the target equilibrium volume, the controller can instruct the dispenser to stop delivering liquid until the current volume of the liquid reaches the equilibrium volume. Once the liquid reaches the target equilibrium volume, the controller can instruct the dispenser to provide the supplemental fluid to the liquid at a desired rate (e.g., a fixed rate or a variable rate), so as to maintain the liquid at the equilibrium volume. The delivery rate can be selected based on the evaporation rate of the liquid.

    [0108] At 903, the contact surface 679 can have a non-uniform temperature profile such that the upper surface 687 of the slide 243 has a temperature profile that is more uniform than the non-uniform profile of the contact surface 679. Substantially the entire mounting area of the slide 243 can have a substantially uniform profile. This ensures that any portion of a specimen contacting the mounting surface is maintained at a generally uniform temperature for consistent processing. Even if specimens move slightly along the mounting surface, the specimens can be consistently processed.

    [0109] At 904, heat losses associated with evaporation of the liquid 802 can be compensated for by producing the non-uniform temperature profile along the contact surface 679. The support element 650 and the heating sidewalls 682 can be used to control the temperature of the slide 243.

    [0110] Fluid manipulated repeatedly across the staining surface results in fluid mixing between different regions within the body of fluid in contact with the slide surface in the sense of both mass as well as thermal energy mixing. Temperature uniformity control across the surface of the slide, therefore, is influenced by the interaction of 1) the conducting heating element under the slide, 2) thermal mixing resulting from fluid manipulation, and 3) evaporative heat loss with respect to the ambient environment. Fluid manipulation is controlled by such factors as manipulation speed and distance with respect to specified volumes. The thermal profile of the conducting element under the slide therefore must be designed appropriately for optimal on-slide temperature uniformity with respect to fluid manipulation factors.

    [0111] Figure 44 shows the slide holder platen 601, a dispenser assembly 633, and the controller 144 of an evaporation moderated specimen process station. The dispenser assembly 633 includes a fluid source 621 fluidically coupled to a dispenser 622 via a fluid line 623. The fluid source 621 can include, without limitation, one or more containers (e.g., a container taken from the parking station 124 of Figure 1, a container taken from the parking station 142 of Figure 1, etc.), reservoirs, or other suitable fluid sources (e.g., a bulk reagent reservoir) and can include one or more valves, pumps, or the like. The dispenser 622 can output liquid via an array of conduits 625. As illustrated in Figure 44, the dispenser 622 can include eight conduits 625, but any number of conduits can be used. Additionally, the dispenser assembly 633 can include more than one dispenser depending on the design of the slide holder platen 601. Additionally or alternatively, the dispensers 160, 162 of Figure 2 can deliver liquid onto the slides and can be fluidly coupled to the fluid source 621 or another fluid source. The opposable 470 can be positioned to allow one or both of the dispensers 160, 162 to deliver a liquid onto the slide. The dispenser 622 can deliver a bulk liquid from the containers at the parking station 142 and the dispensers 160, 162 can deliver liquid from containers at the parking station 140.

    [0112] The controller 144 is capable of controlling an array of specimen processing stations to keep a volume of a processing liquid within an equilibrium volume range. If the volume of the liquid is above the equilibrium volume range, the liquid can evaporate at a relatively high rate and may significantly change the concentration of the liquid. If the volume of the liquid is below the equilibrium volume range, there may be an insufficient volume of liquid to adequately process the specimen. Additionally, an insufficient volume of liquid can result in an undesirably low amount of liquid agitation during processing. The equilibrium volume range can be selected based on the composition of the liquid, desired processing temperature, or desired agitation of the liquid 802. An equilibrium volume of the liquid 802 can correspond to a fluid volume (at a certain temperature or range of temperatures) that provides full coverage of the specimen while keeping evaporative losses below a target level. The dispenser 622 can function as a replenishment device that periodically supplements the liquid at a fixed rate (e.g., a rate based on the evaporation rate) to keep the volume of the liquid within the equilibrium volume range, replenish depleted reagent, or the like.

    [0113] With the target processing temperature or target processing temperature range and a total evaporation rate, the controller 144 can determine a target range of equilibrium volumes. The controller 144 can receive the total evaporation rate information from a memory 629 and/or an input device 628. The input device 628 can include a data server or other similar device that can provide information from a database upon request or periodically. The total evaporation rate information can be obtained from an empirical study and stored in the database. Otherwise, the input device 628 can be a reader that obtains information (e.g., a target processing temperature, a target processing temperature range, replenishing rate, etc.) from a label of a slide.

    [0114] The controller 144 can receive information (e.g., look-up tables, temperature set points, duty cycles, power settings, environmental information such as ambient temperatures and/or humidity, processing protocols, etc.) from the memory 629. The input device 628 can be a manual input device (e.g., a keyboard, a touch screen, or the like) or an automated input device (e.g., a computer, a data storage device, servers, network, etc.) that can provide information automatically upon request from the controller 144. The memory 629 can store different instructions for different processes. One stored sequence of program instructions can be used to contact the specimen 807 with a wash and another sequence of program instructions can be used to apply a reagent (e.g., a stain) to the specimen. The controller 144 can include a programmable processor 631 that executes the sequence of program instructions in order to sequentially process the specimen with the wash and reagent. The slide holder platen 601 can heat the slide to a first target temperature when executing the first sequence of program instructions and can cool the slide to a second target temperature when executing the second sequence of program instructions. Any number of sequences of program instructions can be executed to perform different stages of a protocol.

    [0115] The controller 144 can also be programmed to control the wetting module 430 such that the dispenser 622 delivers the supplemental liquid onto the slide. The rate of fluid delivery can be based on, for example, processing information (e.g., protocol, agitation information, processing time(s), etc.), total evaporation rate information (e.g., evaporation rates under certain conditions, the actual evaporation rate for a certain type of liquid, etc.), or the like. The current volume of the liquid can be determined based on an initial volume of liquid on the slide and stored evaporation rate(s). The stored evaporation rates can be input into the system 100 or determined by the system 100. The controller 144 can calculate the equilibrium volume in advance (e.g., a pilot run), and the system 100 can use the determined equilibrium volume as the initial volume for the same kind of liquids. Then the controller 144 can instruct the dispenser 622 to provide the supplemental liquid at a rate (e.g., a rate determined by the pilot run). The roll speed can be about 100 mm/s to provide a generally uniform temperature profile. For example, a roll speed of 100 millimeters per second can provide a temperature range across the slide of about 4.2°C whereas a roll speed of 65 millimeters per second provides a temperature range of about 6.2°C. The rolling direction, the rolling speed, and the rolling frequency can be adjusted depending on the type of liquids and the desired temperature profile. The rolling speed can have a direct impact on the total evaporation rate. A faster rolling speed can lead to higher evaporation rates. When collecting empirical total evaporation volume information to generate protocols, this can be a factor that is considered.

    [0116] A power source 627 of the controller 144 can be electrically coupled to a heating element (e.g., heating element 653 of Figures 37A and 37B). The power source 627 can be one or more batteries, fuel cells, or the like. The power source 627 can also deliver electrical energy to other components of the system. Otherwise, the power source 627 can be an AC power supply.

    [0117] Figures 45 and 46 are perspective and top views, respectively, of a slide holder platen 701 shown with a slide 243. Figure 47 is a perspective view of the slide holder platen 701 without a slide 243. Referring to Figures 45-47, the slide holder platen 701 is generally identical to the slide holder platen 601 discussed above in connection with Figures 34A-44, except as detailed below. The slide holder platen 701 can include a support element 703, a sealing member 709, and a vacuum port 721. The support element 703 includes a raised slide-receiving region 707, and the sealing member 709 is configured to engage a bottom surface of the slide 243 as the slide is placed on the slide-receiving region 707. The sealing member 709 can be positioned around the vacuum port 721 such that, when the slide 243 engages the sealing member 709, a vacuum is drawn via the vacuum port 721 to pull the slide 243 against the sealing member 709 to maintain a seal (e.g., an airtight seal) and prevent or limit unwanted movement (e.g., rotational movement and/or translational movement as indicated by arrows 801a-b and 799a-b, respectively, in Figure 46) of the slide 243 relative the slide-receiving region 707.

    [0118] Referring now to Figure 47, the slide-receiving region 707 can have a first portion 733 and a second portion 735 disposed within an opening 745 of the first portion 733. The vacuum port 721 can be disposed at a top surface 735a of the second portion 735 at a generally central location. The vacuum port 721 can be fluidically coupled to a vacuum source 717 via one or more fluid lines 719 (e.g., internal fluid lines, external fluid lines, etc.). For example, the fluid line(s) 719 can extend from an opening 705 at the top surface 735a through the second portion 735 to the vacuum source 717. The vacuum source 717 can include, without limitation, one or more pressurization devices, pumps, or other types of devices capable of drawing a vacuum via the opening 705. As shown in Figure 46, when the slide 243 is positioned on the slide-receiving region 707, the specimen-bearing portion 729 of the slide 243 is generally aligned with the first portion 733, and the label-bearing portion 723 of the slide 243 is generally aligned with the second portion 735. As such, a vacuum generated by the vacuum port 721 can be localized to the label-bearing portion 723 of the slide 243 to avoid disrupting thermal processing of the specimen-bearing portion 729.

    [0119] The second portion 735 and opening 745 can individually have a non-round shape (as viewed from above). As used herein, "non-round" refers to any shape other than a true circle (i.e., a shape having a substantially constant radius at every point around its perimeter). For example, the second portion 735 and/or opening 745 can have a rectangular shape with rounded corners. In Otherwise, the second portion 735 and/or opening 745 can have any non-round shape, size, and/or configuration, such as a rounded-corner polygonal shape, a polygonal shape, an oval, an ellipse, and the like. As illustrated, the second portion 735 and the opening 745 can have generally the same non-round shape, while the second portion 735 and the opening 745 can have different non-round shapes.

    [0120] Figure 48 is a partially-exploded view of the slide holder platen 701 and Figure 49 is a cross-sectional side view of a portion of the platen 701 in Figure 48. Referring to Figures 48 and 49 together, the first and second portions 733, 735 of the slide-receiving region 707 are separated by a trench 737 that receives the sealing member 709. The trench 737 defines the opening 745 and can have an outer sidewall 739 defined by the first portion 733, an inner sidewall 741 defined by the second portion 735, and a floor portion 743 between the sidewalls 739, 741. Referring now to Figure 49, a height 775 of the outer sidewall 739/first portion 733 can be greater than a height 773 of the inner sidewall 741/second portion 735. As described in greater detail below with reference to Figure 54, when a slide 243 is positioned on the slide-receiving region 707, a backside surface of the slide contacts a top or contact surface 733a of the first portion 733 and is separated from a top surface 735a of the second portion 735 by a distance 781. As such, the height differential between the first and second portions creates a vacuum chamber 757 (Figure 54) around the vacuum port 721 that is defined by, at least in part, the top surface 735a of the second portion 735.

    [0121] Figures 50 and 52A are perspective and top views, respectively, of the sealing member 709, and Figure 51 is a cross-sectional end view of the sealing member 709 taken along line 51-51 of Figure 50. The sealing member 709 can be in the form of a non-round, compliant gasket having a main body 747 and a lip 749 that extends radially outward from the main body 747. The sealing member 709 is movable between an uncompressed configuration 709UC for contacting the slide that is moving toward the slide-receiving region 707 and a compressed configuration 709C (shown in phantom lines) for maintaining the airtight seal. The main body 747 can have an interior surface 761 configured to contact the inner sidewall 741 of the trench, and an exterior surface 767 configured to contact the outer sidewall 739 of the trench 737. The lip 749 includes a top surface 763 configured to engage the backside of a microscope slide as the slide is being placed on the slide-receiving region 707. The lip 749 can extend radially outward from the main body 747 a distance less than an exterior surface 767 of the main body 747. As such, the lip 749 does not necessarily make contact the outer sidewall 739 when the sealing member 709 is positioned within the trench 737.

    [0122] As shown in Figure 52A, the sealing member 709 (or the main body 747) can have a non-round shape as viewed from above (or along an axis generally perpendicular to a top surface 763 of the sealing member 709). For example, the main body 747 can have a rectangular shape with rounded corners (e.g., Figure 52A). Otherwise, the main body 747 can have any non-round shape, size, and/or configuration, such as a rounded-comer polygonal shape, a polygonal shape (e.g., a square (Figure 52B), a triangle (Figure 52C), etc.), a "flower-petal" configuration (e.g., Figure 52D), and/or the like. The sealing member 709 can be made, in whole or in part, of rubber, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), silicone, nitrile, vinyl, neoprene, and/or other compressible or compliant materials capable of maintaining a desired seal.

    [0123] Figure 53 is a cross-sectional side view of the platen 701 as a slide 243 is being positioned on the slide-receiving region 707 but before a backside 243a of the slide 243 has made contact with the sealing member 709 in an uncompressed state. As shown in Figure 53, at least a portion of the main body 747 is in contact with the inner sidewall 741, outer sidewall 739, and floor portion 743 of the trench 737. The lip 749 is spaced apart from the outer sidewall 739 of the trench 737 and extends upwardly out of the trench 737 beyond the top surface 733a of the first portion 733. The lip 749 can also extends upwardly out of the trench 737 beyond the a horizontal plane (imaginary plane) defined by the top surface 733a. For example, the lip 749 can extend a distance 753 from the top surface 733a. As such, the lip 749 is configured to engage the backside surface 243a of the slide 243 before the backside surface 243a contacts the top surface 733a of the first portion 733. This way, the sealing member 709 absorbs the contact forces associated with the placement of the slide 243 on the slide-receiving region 707, thus easing the transition of the slide 243 onto the slide-receiving region 707.

    [0124] Figure 54 is a cross-sectional side view of the platen 701 after the slide 243 has been positioned on the slide-receiving region 707 (e.g., the sealing member 709 is in the compressed state), and Figure 55 is an enlarged view of a portion of Figure 54. As shown in Figure 54, the backside surface 243a of the slide 243 contacts the lip 749 of the sealing member 709 as well as the top surface 733a of the first portion 733. Because of the height differential between the first and second portions 733, 735, the backside surface 243a of the slide 243 is separated from the top surface 735a of the second portion 735 by a distance 781 (see Figure 55). As such, the pressurized port 721 is positioned below and spaced apart from the backside 243a of the slide 243 such that the top surface 735a of the second portion 735 and the backside surface 243a of the slide 243 at least partially define a vacuum chamber 757. For example, when the vacuum source is activated, fluid and/or air between the backside 243a of the slide 243, a portion of the sealing member 709 (e.g., lip 749 and/or exterior surface 761 of the main body 747), the inner sidewall 741, and/or the top surface 735a of the second portion 735 is drawn through the vacuum port 721 (as indicated by arrows 755). As a result, the slide 243 is pulled against the sealing member 709, thereby forming a seal. The seal secures the positioning of the slide 243 relative to the support element 703 and substantially eliminates unwanted rotation and/or translation of the slide 243.

    [0125] The lip 749 can be movable between the uncompressed configuration and the compressed configuration without contacting the outer sidewall 739 of the trench 737. As best shown in Figure 55, even in the compressed configuration, a gap 771 can remain between the sealing member lip 749 and the outer sidewall 739 of the trench 737. For example, the lip 749 can be configured to deflect primarily in a direction perpendicular to the backside surface 243a of the slide 243. The lip 749 can be sufficiently stiff to prevent any rotation of the slide 243 about a vertical axis. As such, the slide 243 can rotationally fixed relative to the support surface. Although (in the compressed state) the lip 749 can be separated from the outer sidewall 739, the lip 749 is configured to physically contact the sidewall(s) of the trench 737 to inhibit movement of the slide 243 relative to the support element 703. For example, as shown in Figure 56, the lip 749 or other portion of the sealing member 709 can be configured to physically contact the outer sidewall 739 of the trench 737 when the slide 243 is rotated about its vertical axis (e.g., at least about 2 degrees). Because of the non-round shape of both the sealing member 709 and the opening 745 in the first portion 733, the outer sidewalls 747 of the trench 737 limit rotation of the sealing member 709 (e.g., by exerting a contact force CF) and thus the slide 743.

    [0126] The slide holder platen 701 can include additional features. For example, the slide holder platen 701 can include one or more sensors 759 (Figure 54) to detect the presence of the slide 243 and/or activate the vacuum source 717. he slide holder platen 701 can include one or more sensors to monitor the pressure generated within the vacuum chamber 757. The slide holder platen 701 can be in communication with a controller that can control the timing and/or magnitude of the vacuum source 717.

    [0127] Figure 57 is a plot of equilibrium volume versus total evaporation rate of a processing liquid. The x-axis represents the equilibrium volume (EV, unit: µL), and the y-axis represents the total evaporation rate (TER, unit: µL/s). Lines T1 and T2 represent the relationships between the TER and the EV at temperature T1 and temperature T2, respectively. As illustrated, T1 may be higher than T2. The controller 144 can receive the total evaporation rate information from the memory 629, the input device 628, or the like. The total evaporation rate information can be measured and stored in the memory 629. The total evaporation rate information can include evaporation rates for liquids at different concentrations. After the controller 144 receives the predetermined temperature (e.g., T1) and the total evaporation rate information (e.g., "A" µL/s), the controller 144 can determine the EV value (e.g., "B" µL) of the liquid based on the graph of Figure 57. Equation 1 corresponds to the relationships described in Figure 57. The slope of the lines T1 and T2 represent the temperature-dependent evaporation constant (K) below.



    [0128] Once the equilibrium volume of the liquid is determined, the controller 144 can compare it with an estimated volume of the slide and can instruct the dispenser 622 to supply supplemental fluid if needed. If the current volume of the liquid is lower than the target equilibrium volume, the controller 144 can instruct the dispenser 622 to provide more supplemental liquid.

    [0129] Figure 58 is a plot of time versus coverage of a slide. Figures 59A-63B illustrate one method of achieving the coverage depicted in Figure 58 by moving the liquid 802 along the entire staining area 671 (excluding a label 907 and some margin, if desired) to provide full coverage by being alternatingly moved between opposing ends 732, 735 of the mounting area 671. The full coverage can help minimize, limit, or substantially prevent problems associated with under-wetting and over-wetting. In under-wetting, the liquid 802 contacts less than the entire staining area 671 such that the specimen 807 may be at risk of not being contacted and thus not being treated/stained. In over-wetting, the liquid 802 contacts more than the entire staining area 671 and may tend to drain from the slide 243. The liquid 802 may be at risk of ineffective liquid removal in subsequent processes, resulting in reagent carryover and associated stain quality degradation. If the liquid 802 is a stain, the entire specimen 807 is contacted for consistent (e.g., uniform) staining. If the liquid 802 is a wash, full coverage ensures that the entire specimen 807 is thoroughly washed, especially after a reagent treatment. Different stages of the method are discussed in detail below.

    [0130] Figures 59A and 59B are side and top views of the band of liquid 802 between the opposable 810 held by the opposable actuator (not shown) and the mounting area end 732 at time 0 in Figure 58. The opposable 810 and slide 243 form a band of liquid 802 (e.g., a meniscus layer, a thin film, or the like). The band of liquid 802 of Figure 59B is shown in phantom line. A gap 930 (e.g., a capillary gap) can have a minimum holding capacity of about 125 microliters to about 200 microliters. Other minimum and maximum holding capacities are possible, if needed or desired. The minimum holding capacity can be the smallest volume of liquid that can be contained in the gap 930 and effectively applied to the specimen 807, which may be located anywhere on the staining area 671. The maximum holding capacity is the largest volume of liquid that can be contained in the gap 930 without over-filling. The varying height gap 930 can accommodate a wider range of liquid volumes than a uniform height gap because the narrowed region of the gap 930 can accommodate a small liquid volume.

    [0131] The opposable 810 is rolled along the slide 243 to displace the band of liquid 802 (indicated by an arrow 961) in the direction of a longitudinal axis 951 of the slide 243. In Figures 60A and 60B, the band of liquid 802 has been spread by moving a side 958 of the band of liquid 802 in the direction of the longitudinal axis 951 (corresponding to 0.25 seconds in Figure 58). A side 956 of the band of liquid 802 can remain at an edge 960 of the slide 243. The band of liquid 802 can be spread from a narrowed width WN1 (Figure 59B) to a spread width WS. The widths WN1, WS can be substantially parallel to the longitudinal axis 951 of the slide 243, and the length L of the band of liquid 802 can be substantially perpendicular to the longitudinal axis 951.

    [0132] Figures 61A and 61B show the band of liquid 802 after it has moved along the slide 243, corresponding to 0.5 second in Figure 58. The band of liquid 802 is displaced using capillary action. Capillary action can include, without limitation, movement of the band of liquid 802 due to the phenomenon of the liquid spontaneously creeping through the gap 930 due to adhesive forces, cohesive forces, and/or surface tension. The width WS can be generally maintained while displacing the band of liquid 802. Otherwise, the width WS may be increased or decreased less than 5% while moving the band of liquid 802. The opposable 810 can have a non-uniform curvature or configuration to have a variable width WS as the band moves across the slide.

    [0133] Figures 62A and 62B show the band of liquid 802 positioned at the end 735, corresponding to 0.75 second in Figure 58. The side 958 of the band of liquid 802 can be captivated between an end 952 of the opposable 810 and the end 735 of the mounting area 671. The label 907 can help captivate the liquid 802. For example, the label 907 can be made, in whole or in part, of a hydrophobic material. As the opposable 810 moves to an over-rolled position of Figure 63A, the width Ws of the band of liquid 802 can be decreased to a narrowed width WN2, corresponding to 1 second in Figure 58. The width of the band of liquid 802 can be reduced while captivating substantially all of the liquid 802 at an end 970 of the gap 930. For example, at least 90% by volume of the liquid 802 can remain captivated. At least 95% by volume of the liquid 802 can remain captivated. Yet further, substantially all of the liquid 802 can remain captivated as the width of the band of liquid 802 is decreased.

    [0134] The compressed width WN2 can be substantially less than the width WS such that the entire narrowed band of liquid 802 is spaced apart from the specimen 807. The narrowed width WN2 can be equal to or less than about 50%, 25%, or 10% of the width WS. Such arrangements may be especially well suited to process slides carrying one or more specimens. A relatively large area of the staining area 671 is uncovered by the narrowed band while preventing wicking or escape of the liquid. The width WN2 can be equal to or less than about 40%, 30%, or 20% of the width WS. The width WN1 can be generally equal to the width WN2. Advantageously, the opposable actuator 525 can be operated to increase or decrease to provide variable narrowing of the band of liquid 802.

    [0135] The opposable 810 of Figures 63A and 63B can be rolled back across the slide 243 to move the band of liquid 802 to the position shown in Figure 59A. The opposable 810 can be rolled back and forth any number of times at a variable rate or constant rate to move the liquid 802 back and forth across the slide 243. If the liquid 802 is a washing liquid, the washing liquid can be rapidly passed back and forth across the specimen 807 to provide thorough washing. If the liquid 802 is a stain, the band of liquid 802 can be passed back and forth across the specimen 807 to provide uniform staining across an entire width Wspec (measured in a direction parallel to the longitudinal axis 951 of the slide 243) of the specimen 807. One or more wash cycles can be performed between staining cycles. On-slide mixing can also be performed, if needed or desired.

    [0136] Processing protocols may require different rolling speeds and different liquid volumes in order to meet various processing criteria (e.g., chemical requirements, uptake requirements, solubility limitations, viscosity, or the like). If the specimen 807 is a paraffin embedded specimen, a relatively small volume of de-waxing solution (e.g., 12 microliters of xylene) can be delivered into the gap 930. The opposable 810 can be rolled (e.g., rolled along an imaginary plane spaced apart from the upper surface of the slide 243, rolled along the upper surface, rolled sideways, rolled longitudinally, or the like) or otherwise manipulated (e.g., rotated, translated, or both) to apply the liquid 802. After dewaxing, a relatively large volume of reagent can be delivered into the gap 930. For example, a volume of about 125 microliters to about 180 microliters of stain can be delivered into the gap 930. The stain is delivered to the specimen 807 and then subsequently removed.

    [0137] The method shown in Figures 59A-63B can be used to perform assay steps (e.g., antibody and chromogen assays). The assay steps can be performed at relatively low temperatures. The slide holder platen 601 can keep the specimen and/or processing liquid at a temperature in a range of about 35°C to about 40°C. The liquid and/or specimen may be kept at a temperature of about 37°C. The dispenser (e.g., dispenser 622 of Figure 44) can deliver supplemental liquid to maintain a target volume of about 30 microliters to about 350 microliters. In some protocols, the dispenser delivers supplemental liquid at a rate of about 4 to about 5.1 microliters per minute to about 5.6 microliters per minute. The volume of the liquid (e.g., liquid 802 of Figure 59A) can be kept in a range of about 90 microliters to about 175 microliters over about a 15 minute period based on a relative humidity of about 10%-90%, an ambient temperature of about 15°C to about 32°C, with an average slide temperature tolerance of about ± 1°C, and an opposable rolling speed of about 25 to 60 millimeters per second. The evaporation rate may be generally proportional to the rolling speed. If the rolling speed is about 20 millimeters per second, a replenish rate of about 3.8 microliters per minute to about 4.2 microliters per minute can maintain a volume of about 115 microliters to about 200 microliters. If the rolling speed is about 40 millimeters per second, a replenish rate of about 5.1 microliters per minute to about 5.6 microliters per minute can maintain a volume of the liquid 802 of about 115 microliters to about 200 microliters. At a high rolling speed of about 90 millimeters per second, the replenish rate can be about 7.6 microliters per minute to about 8.4 microliters per minute to maintain a volume of about 110 microliters to about 200 microliters. Higher speeds may be possible but are dependent upon the gap height, opposable radius, and fluid properties. Humidity and ambient temperatures can impact evaporation rates at low temperatures but may not have a significant impact at elevated temperatures of, for example, temperatures greater than 72°C.

    [0138] For targeted retrieval, the rolling speed can be about 100 millimeters per second and the replenish rate can be 72 microliters per minute. For antigen retrieval, the rolling speed can be about 180 millimeters per second and the replenish rate can be about 105 microliters per minute. Other replenish rates can be selected based on the processing conditions.

    [0139] As used herein, the term "opposable element" is a broad term and refers to, without limitation, a surface, a tile, a strip, or another structure capable of manipulating one or more substances to process a specimen on a slide as described herein. The components of the system 100 (Figure 1) use a wide range of different types of opposable elements. The opposable element can include one or more spacers, gapping elements or other features for positioning the opposable element relative to a slide. Otherwise, the opposable element can have a smooth surface (e.g., a non-planer fluid-manipulating surface) that is substantially free of spacers, gapping elements, or the like and can have a monolayer construction or a multi-layer construction. The smooth surface can roll or otherwise travel along a slide. As discussed above, opposable elements can be moved relative to a stationary slide to manipulate a fluid. Otherwise, a slide can be moved relative to a stationary opposable element to manipulate a fluid. Yet otherwise, both a slide and an opposable element can be moved to manipulate a fluid. Additionally, two opposable elements can process specimens. For example, two opposable elements can be used to captivate and manipulate a fluid to process a specimen held between the opposable elements. The specimen can then be transferred to a slide or appropriate specimen carrier. The opposable 810 (Figures 59A and 59B) and opposable 2012 are a non-limiting exemplary opposable elements and are discussed in detail in connection with Figures 64-67.

    [0140] Figures 64-67 show the opposable 810. The opposable 810 can include a body 1459, a port 1374, and a slot 1356. The body 1459 includes a first row of gapping elements 1450, a second row of gapping elements 1452, and a specimen processing region 1453. When the specimen processing region 1453 faces a slide and interfaces with a liquid, the liquid can be removed via the port 1374. The slot 1356 can receive a feature of an opposable actuator. The body 1459 can also include keying features 1362, 1364 (e.g., holes, protrusions, etc.) used to align the opposable 810. The illustrated features 1362, 1364 are holes.

    [0141] Figure 64 shows the specimen processing region 1453 between the two rows of gapping elements 1450, 1452. The opposable 810 has edges 1454, 1456 that can be dimensioned with respect to the slide to provide the desired processing region 1453 (e.g., the entire surface 1460 of the opposable 810, most of the upper surface 1460 of the opposable 810, the region between the gapping elements 1450, 1452, or the like).

    [0142] Figure 65 shows en exemplary band of liquid 802 (illustrated in phantom line) positioned between the gapping elements 1450, 1452. The band of liquid 802 can move along the length of the opposable 810 without contacting the gapping elements 1450, 1452. The band of liquid 802 can be displaced without accumulation of liquid about any of the gapping elements 1450, 1452.

    [0143] The gapping elements 1450, 1452 can help process a specimen with a desired amount of fluid (e.g., a minimal amount of fluid). The gapping elements 1450, 1452 can also be spaced apart from one another to reduce, limit, or substantially prevent wicking between adjacent elements. If the liquid 802 reaches one of the gapping elements 1450, 1452, the liquid 802 can reside at the contact interface between that gapping element and the slide without flowing to an adjacent gapping element. The gapping elements 1450, 1452 are spaced apart from the edges 1454, 1456 of the opposable 810 to keep the liquid proximate to the processing region 1453. Additionally, the liquid 802 is kept far enough away from the edges 1454, 1456 to prevent wicking out from underneath the opposable 810 even if another object contacts the edges 1454, 1456.

    [0144] The rows of gapping elements 1450, 1452 extend longitudinally along a length of the opposable 810. Opposing gapping elements of each row of gapping elements 1450, 1452 are generally laterally aligned such that a slide can contact laterally aligned gapping elements 1450, 1452. As the opposable 810 is moved along the slide, the slide is successively brought into contact with laterally aligned gapping elements 1450, 1452.

    [0145] Each of the rows of gapping elements 1450, 1452 can be generally similar to one another. Accordingly, the description of one of the rows of gapping elements 1450, 1452 applies equally to the other, unless indicated otherwise. The row of gapping elements 1450 can include about 5 gapping elements to about 60 gapping elements with an average distance between adjacent gapping elements in a range of about 0.05 inch (1.27 mm) to about 0.6 inch (15.24 mm). As illustrated in Figures 64 and 65, the row of gapping elements 1450 can include 19 gapping elements that protrude outwardly from the entire surface 1460. Otherwise, the row of gapping elements 1450 can include about 10 gapping elements to about 40 gapping elements. As viewed from above (see Figure 65), the row of gapping elements 1450 has a generally linear configuration. Otherwise , the row of gapping elements 1450 can have a zigzag configuration, serpentine configuration, or any other configuration or pattern.

    [0146] The gapping elements 1450 can be evenly or unevenly spaced from one another. The distance between adjacent gapping elements 1450 can be greater than the heights of the gapping elements 1450 and/or less than a thickness T (Figure 67) of the body 1459 of the opposable 810. Other spacing arrangements are also possible, if needed or desired. The thickness T can be about 0.08 inch (2 mm). A width W between the edges 1454, 1456 can be in a range of about 0.6 inch (15.24 mm) to about 1.5 inch (38 mm). The width W can be about 1.2 inches (30 mm) and the edges 1454, 1456 can be substantially parallel. Other widths are also possible.

    [0147] Referring to Figure 65, a distance D between the rows 1450, 1452 can be selected based on the dimensions of the specimen and the dimensions of the slide. The distance D can be in a range of about 0.25 inch (6.35 mm) to about 1 inch (25 mm). If the slide is a standard microscope slide, the distance D can be less than about 0.5 inch (12.7 mm).

    [0148] Figure 67 shows one of the gapping elements 1450. The height H of the gapping element 1450 can be selected based on the ability to manipulate fluid. The gapping element 1450 can have a height H equal to or less than about 0.0015 inch (0.038 mm) if the specimen is a tissue section with a thickness that is less than about 0.0015 inch (0.038 mm). The minimum height of the capillary gap (e.g., gap 930 of Figures 59A-63B) can be equal to 0.0015 inch (0.038 mm) if the gapping elements 1450 contact the slide. The height H can be in a range of about 0.001 inch (0.025 mm) to about 0.005 inch (0.127 mm). The height H can be about 0.003 inch (0.076 mm) (e.g., 0.003 inch ± 0.0005 inch (0.0076 mm ± 0.0015 mm) to process thin tissue sections with a thickness less than about 30 microns, 20 microns, or 10 microns.

    [0149] The pattern, number, dimensions, and configurations of the gapping elements 1450, 1452 can be selected based on the desired interaction between the specimen and the liquid. If the opposable 810 includes a field of gapping elements, the gapping elements can be distributed evenly or unevenly across the opposable 810 to form different patterns that may include, without limitation, one or more rows, arrays, geometric shapes, or the like.

    [0150] The gapping element 1450 can be a partially spherical dimple, partially elliptical dimple, or the like. The illustrated gapping element 1450 is a substantially partially spherical dimple. If the specimen is sufficiently large or moves toward one side of the slide, the gapping element 1450 in the form of a dimple can slide over the specimen without damaging or dislodging the specimen to the slide. Otherwise, the gapping element 1450 can be in the form of a polyhedron protrusion, a conical protrusion, a frustoconical protrusion, or another combination of polygonal and arcuate shapes.

    [0151] The body 1459 of Figure 66 is in the shape of a simple are with a radius of curvature R in a range of about 2 inches (5 cm) to about 30 inches (76 cm). The radius of curvature R can be about 15 inches (38 cm) or about 20 inches (74 cm). The nominal radius of the profile deviation can be equal to or less than about 0.1 inch. The actual radius of the profile can deviate less than about 0.01 inch. Such arrangements are well suited to produce a liquid band having a generally rectangular shape, as viewed from above, and also spanning the width of the slide and, for a particular volume, having a low variance in length along the slide. The radius of curvature R can be selected based on the number of specimens to be processed, the amount of fluid agitation, the properties of the processing liquids, the height of gapping elements 1450, 1452, and the like. Otherwise, the opposable 810 can be in the shape of a complex arc (e.g., an elliptical arc), a compound arc, or the like. Yet otherwise, the opposable 810 can be substantially planar. The surface across the width W can be generally straight.

    [0152] The opposable 810 can be made, in whole or in part, of polymers, plastics, elastomers, composites, ceramics, glass, or metals, as well as any other material that is chemically compatible with the processing fluids and specimen. Exemplary plastics include, without limitation, polyethylene (e.g., high density polyethylene, linear low density polyethylene, blends, or the like), polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), perfluoroalkoxy (PFA), or combinations thereof. The opposable 810 can be made of a single material. Otherwise, different portions of the opposable 810 can be made of different materials. If the opposable 810 is disposable, it can be made, in whole or in part, of a relatively inexpensive material. If the opposable 810 is rigid, it can be made, in whole or in part, of polycarbonate, urethane, polyester, a metal coated plate, or the like.

    [0153] Referring again to Figure 66, the end 952 includes a captivation feature in the form of a tapered region 1461. The tapered region 1461 is positioned to captivate the band of liquid. As the opposable 810 is over-rolled, the band of liquid can contact and cling to the tapered region 1461. A curved surface 1463 provides a large surface area to which the liquid can cling. The illustrated tapered region 1461 has a radius of curvature equal to or less than about 0.08 inch to cooperate with a standard microscope slide to captivate a band of liquid. Other radii of curvature can also be used, if needed or desired. The curvature of the rounded edge 1461 can be uniform across the width W of the opposable 810. Otherwise, the curvature of the rounded edge can vary across the width W of the opposable 810.

    [0154] The opposable 810 can be disposable to prevent cross-contamination. As used herein, the term "disposable" when applied to a system or component (or combination of components), such as an opposable element, a processing liquid, or the like, is a broad term and generally means, without limitation, that the system or component in question is used a finite number of times and is then discarded. Some disposable components, such as an opposable element, are used only once and are then discarded. Multiple components of a processing apparatus can be disposable to further prevent or limit carryover contamination. Otherwise, the components may be non-disposable and can be used any number of times. For example, opposable elements that are non-disposable may be subjected to different types of cleaning and/or sterilization processes without appreciably altering the characteristics of the opposable element.

    [0155] The slides disclosed herein can be a 1 inch x 3 inch microscope slide, a 25 mm x 75 mm microscope slide, or another type of flat or substantially flat substrate. "Substantially flat substrate" refers, without limitation, to any object having at least one substantially flat surface, but more typically to any object having two substantially flat surfaces on opposite sides of the object, and even more typically to any object having opposed substantially flat surfaces, which opposed surfaces are generally equal in size but larger than any other surfaces on the object. The substantially flat substrate can comprise any suitable material, including plastics, rubber, ceramics, glass, silicon, semiconductor materials, metals, combinations thereof, or the like. Non-limiting examples of substantially flat substrates include flat covers, SELDI and MALDI chips, silicon wafers, or other generally planar objects with at least one substantially flat surface.

    [0156] From the foregoing, it will be appreciated that specific embodiments of the invention have been described herein for purposes of illustration, but well-known structures and functions have not been shown or described in detail to avoid unnecessarily obscuring the description of at least some embodiments of the invention. The systems described herein can perform a wide range of processes for preparing biological specimens for analyzing. Where the context permits, singular or plural terms may also include the plural or singular term, respectively. Unless the word "or" is associated with an express clause indicating that the word should be limited to mean only a single item exclusive from the other items in reference to a list of two or more items, then the use of "or" in such a list shall be interpreted as including (a) any single item in the list, (b) all of the items in the list, or (c) any combination of the items in the list. The singular forms "a," "an," and "the" include plural referents unless the context clearly indicates otherwise. Thus, for example, reference to "a specimen" refers to one or more specimens, such as two or more specimens, three or more specimens, or four or more specimens.


    Claims

    1. An automated slide processing apparatus (100) for dispensing liquids onto one or more microscope slides (156), comprising:

    a plurality of reservoir wells (180); and

    a reagent pipette assembly (175) including a reagent pipette (204) movable between at least one loading position (213) for obtaining reagent from one of the reservoir wells (180) and at least one dispense position for dispensing reagent onto one of the microscope slides (156);

    characterized in that the automated slide processing apparatus (100) further comprises:

    a carousel (177) including the plurality of reservoir wells (180);

    a wash pipette assembly (176) configured to wash the plurality of reservoir wells (180); and

    a drive mechanism (184) coupled to the carousel (177) and configured to rotate the carousel (177) to position the reservoir wells (180) relative to the reagent pipette assembly (175) and/or the wash pipette assembly (176),

    wherein the reagent pipette assembly (175) is movable between a filling position for obtaining reagent from a container (211) at a filling station (209) and a dispensing position for filling one or more of the reservoir wells (180) with reagent from the filling station (209).


     
    2. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the filling station (209) includes a plurality of containers (211) holding reagents; and wherein the automated slide processing apparatus (100) further comprises:

    a plurality of slide processing stations;

    wherein the reagent pipette assembly (175) is movable through an internal chamber of the automated slide processing apparatus (100) to transport reagent obtained at the filling station (209) to the carousel (177) and to dispense reagent mixtures from the carousel (177) onto one of microscope slides (156) which are at the slide processing stations.


     
    3. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the drive mechanism (184) is configured to sequentially rotate the reservoir wells (180) underneath a wash pipette (213) of the wash pipette assembly (176).
     
    4. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the reagent pipette assembly (175) is configured to fill the reagent pipette (204) with reagent from any one of the reservoir wells (180).
     
    5. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, further comprising a controller (144) communicatively coupled to the drive mechanism (184) and configured to command the drive mechanism (184) such that the drive mechanism (184) sequentially moves each of the reservoir wells (180) to a washing position for washing by the wash pipette assembly (176).
     
    6. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 5, wherein the controller (144) stores and executes instructions for commanding the reagent pipette assembly (175) to fill the reservoir wells (180) with reagent from reagent containers (211).
     
    7. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, further comprising a controller (144) having mixing instructions that are executable to command the reagent pipette assembly (175) such that the reagent pipette assembly (175) delivers at least two reagents to one of the reservoir wells (180) to produce a reagent mixture.
     
    8. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 7, wherein the controller (144) has mixed reagent dispense instructions that are executable to command the reagent pipette assembly (175) to dispense the reagent mixture onto a specimen.
     
    9. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the wash pipette assembly (176) is fluidically coupled to a vacuum source (237), and the wash pipette assembly (176) draws liquid from one of the reservoir wells (180) when the vacuum source (237) draws a vacuum.
     
    10. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the carousel (177) includes spillways (187) configured to allow reagent to flow from the reservoir wells (180) while preventing flow of reagent between adjacent reservoir wells (180).
     
    11. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the carousel (177) includes a drain (183) and a plurality of spillways (187) that allow an overflow of reagent to flow from the reservoir wells (180) toward the drain (183).
     
    12. The automated slide processing apparatus (100) of claim 1, wherein the filling station (209) includes a plurality of containers (211) holding reagents; and wherein the automated slide processing apparatus (100) further comprises:

    a slide processing station including

    a slide holder platen (601) having a receiving region (680) configured to receive a slide (156) with a first side of the slide (156) facing the receiving region (680) and a second side facing away from the receiving region (680); and

    an opposable actuator (525) positioned to hold an opposable element (810, 2012) to define a capillary gap (930) between the opposable element (810, 2012) and a slide (156) located at the receiving region (680), the opposable actuator (525) being configured to move the capillary gap (930) in a first direction along the slide (156) to move a band of liquid along the second side of the slide (156) from a first position to a second position and to decrease a width of the band of liquid in a direction substantially parallel to the first direction,

    wherein the reagent pipette assembly (175) is movable through an internal chamber of the automated slide processing apparatus (100) to transport reagent obtained at the filling station (209) to the carousel (177) and to dispense reagent mixtures from the carousel (177) onto a microscope slide (156) at the slide processing station.


     
    13. A method of dispensing liquid onto a microscope slide (156), the method comprising:

    sequentially delivering reagents to a plurality of reservoir wells (180) of a carousel (177) to produce reagent mixtures, wherein the carousel (177) is rotatable to sequentially position the reservoir wells (180) at a wash position;

    at least partially filling a reagent pipette (204) with one of the reagent mixtures from one of the reservoir wells (180) while at least one of the reservoir wells (180) is located at the wash position;

    after at least partially filling the reagent pipette (204) with reagent, robotically moving the reagent pipette (204) toward the microscope slide (156) and dispensing the reagent onto the microscope slide (156); and

    washing at least one of the reservoir wells (180) when the at least one reservoir well (180) is located at the wash position,

    wherein the reagent pipette assembly (175) is movable between a filling position for obtaining reagent from a container (211) at a filling station (209) and a dispensing position for filling one or more of the reservoir wells (180) with reagent from the filling station (209).


     
    14. The method of claim 13, further comprising:

    rotating the carousel (177) to position one of the reservoir wells (180) containing reagent at the wash position; and

    washing the reservoir well (180) at the wash position to remove the reagent.


     


    Ansprüche

    1. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) zum Ausgeben von Flüssigkeiten auf einen oder mehrere Mikroskop-Objektträger (156), umfassend:

    eine Vielzahl von Reservoirvertiefungen (180); und

    eine Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175), umfassend eine Reagenspipette (204), die zwischen wenigstens einer Ladeposition (213) zum Erhalten von Reagens aus einer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) und wenigstens einer Ausgabeposition zum Ausgeben von Reagens auf einen der Mikroskop-Objektträger (156) beweglich ist;

    dadurch gekennzeichnet, dass die automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) ferner umfasst:

    ein Karussell (177), das die Vielzahl von Reservoirvertiefungen (180) aufweist;

    eine Waschpipettenbaugruppe (176), gestaltet zum Waschen der Vielzahl von Reservoirvertiefungen (180); und

    einen Antriebsmechanismus (184), der an das Karussell (177) gekoppelt ist und dafür gestaltet ist, das Karussell (177) zu drehen, um die Reservoirvertiefungen (180) relativ zu der Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) und/oder der Waschpipettenbaugruppe (176) zu positionieren,

    wobei die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) zwischen einer Füllposition zum Erhalten von Reagens aus einem Behälter (211) bei einer Füllstation (209) und einer Ausgabeposition zum Füllen einer oder mehrerer Reservoirvertiefungen (180) mit Reagens aus der Füllstation (209) beweglich ist.


     
    2. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei die Füllstation (209) eine Vielzahl von Behältern (211), die Reagenzien enthalten, aufweist; und wobei die automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) ferner umfasst:

    eine Vielzahl von Objektträgerverarbeitungsstationen;

    wobei die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) durch eine Innenkammer der automatisierten Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) beweglich ist, um an der Füllstation (209) erhaltenes Reagens zu dem Karussell (177) zu befördern und Reagensgemische aus dem Karussell (177) auf einen der Mikroskop-Objektträger (156) auszugeben, die an den Objektträgerverarbeitungsstationen angeordnet sind.


     
    3. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei der Antriebsmechanismus (184) dafür gestaltet ist, die Reservoirvertiefungen (180) der Reihe nach unter eine Waschpipette (213) der Waschpipettenbaugruppe (176) zu drehen.
     
    4. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) dafür gestaltet ist, die Reagenspipette (204) mit Reagens aus einer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) zu füllen.
     
    5. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, ferner umfassend einen Kontroller (144), der kommunikativ mit dem Antriebsmechanismus (184) gekoppelt ist und dafür gestaltet ist, den Antriebsmechanismus (184) so zu steuern, dass der Antriebsmechanismus (184) der Reihe nach jede der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) zu einer Waschposition zum Waschen durch die Waschpipettenbaugruppe (176) bewegt.
     
    6. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 5, wobei der Kontroller (144) Anweisungen zum Steuern der Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) zum Füllen der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) mit Reagens aus den Reagensbehältern (211) speichert und ausführt.
     
    7. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, ferner umfassend einen Kontroller (144) mit Mischanweisungen, die ausführbar sind, um die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) so zu steuern, dass die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) wenigstens zwei Reagenzien an eine der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) ausgibt, um ein Reagensgemisch zu erhalten.
     
    8. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 7, wobei der Kontroller (144) Reagensgemisch-Ausgabeanweisungen aufweist, die ausführbar sind, um die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) anzuweisen, das Reagensgemisch auf eine Probe auszugeben.
     
    9. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei die Waschpipettenbaugruppe (176) mit einer Unterdruckquelle (237) fluidgekoppelt ist und die Waschpipettenbaugruppe (176) Flüssigkeit aus einer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) zieht, wenn die Unterdruckquelle (237) einen Unterdruck zieht.
     
    10. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei das Karussell (177) Überläufe (187) aufweist, die dafür gestaltet sind, zu erlauben, dass Reagens aus den Reservoirvertiefungen (180) fließt, während Fluss von Reagens zwischen benachbarten Reservoirvertiefungen (180) verhindert wird.
     
    11. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei das Karussell (177) einen Ablauf (183) und eine Vielzahl von Überläufen (187) aufweist, die erlauben, dass ein Überschuss an Reagens aus den Reservoirvertiefungen (180) zu dem Ablauf (183) fließt.
     
    12. Automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) gemäß Anspruch 1, wobei die Füllstation (209) eine Vielzahl von Behältern (211), die Reagenzien enthalten, aufweist; und wobei die automatisierte Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) ferner umfasst:

    eine Objektträgerverarbeitungsstation, umfassend

    eine Objektträgerhalteplatte (601) mit einem Aufnahmebereich (680), gestaltet zum Aufnehmen eines Objektträgers (156), wobei eine erste Seite des Objektträgers (156) dem Aufnahmebereich (680) zugewandt ist und eine zweite Seite von dem Aufnahmebereich (680) abgewandt ist; und

    einen gegenüberstellbaren Aktor (525), der positioniert ist, ein gegenüberstellbares Element (810, 2012) zu halten, um einen Kapillarspalt (930) zwischen dem gegenüberstellbaren Element (810, 2012) und einem Objektträger (156), der in dem Aufnahmebereich (680) angeordnet ist, zu definieren, wobei der gegenüberstellbare Aktor (525) dafür gestaltet ist, den Kapillarspalt (930) in einer ersten Richtung entlang des Objektträgers (156) zu bewegen, um ein Band von Flüssigkeit entlang der zweiten Seite des Objektträgers (156) von einer ersten Position in eine zweite Position zu bewegen und um die Breite des Bands von Flüssigkeit in einer Richtung im Wesentlichen parallel zu der ersten Richtung zu verringern,

    wobei die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) durch eine Innenkammer der automatisierten Objektträgerverarbeitungsvorrichtung (100) beweglich ist, um Reagens, das an der Füllstation (209) erhalten wird, zu dem Karussell (177) zu bewegen und Reagensgemische von dem Karussell (177) auf einen Mikroskop-Objektträger (156) an der Objektträgerverarbeitungsstation auszugeben.
     
    13. Verfahren zum Ausgeben von Flüssigkeit auf einen Mikroskop-Objektträger (156), wobei das Verfahren umfasst:

    der Reihe nach Zuführen von Reagenzien zu einer Vielzahl von Reservoirvertiefungen (180) eines Karussells (177), um Reagensgemische zu erzeugen, wobei das Karussell (177) drehbar ist, um die Reservoirvertiefungen (180) der Reihe nach bei einer Waschposition zu positionieren;

    wenigstens teilweise Füllen einer Reagenspipette (204) mit einem der Reagensgemische aus einer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180), während eine der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) bei der Waschposition angeordnet ist;

    nach wenigstens teilweisem Füllen der Reagenspipette (204) mit Reagens robotisches Bewegen der Reagenspipette (204) zu dem Mikroskop-Objektträger (156) und Ausgeben des Reagens auf den Mikroskop-Objektträger (156); und

    Waschen wenigstens einer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180), wenn die wenigstens eine Reservoirvertiefung (180) an der Waschposition angeordnet ist,

    wobei die Reagenspipettenbaugruppe (175) zwischen einer Füllposition zum Erhalten von Reagens aus einem Behälter (211) bei einer Füllstation (209) und einer Ausgabeposition zum Füllen einer oder mehrerer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180) mit Reagens aus der Füllstation (209) beweglich ist.


     
    14. Verfahren gemäß Anspruch 13, ferner umfassend:

    Drehen des Karussells (177) zum Positionieren einer der Reservoirvertiefungen (180), die Reagens enthalten, bei der Waschposition; und

    Waschen der Reservoirvertiefung (180) bei der Waschposition zum Entfernen des Reagens.


     


    Revendications

    1. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) pour distribuer des liquides sur une ou plusieurs lames pour examen microscopique (156), comprenant:

    une pluralité de puits de réservoir (180); et

    un ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) comprenant une pipette de réactif (204) mobile entre au moins une position de chargement (213) pour obtenir du réactif à partir d'un des puits de réservoir (180) et au moins une position de distribution pour distribuer du réactif sur une des lames pour examen microscopique (156); caractérisé en ce que le dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) comprend en outre:

    un carrousel (177) comportant une pluralité de puits de réservoir (180);

    un ensemble de pipette de lavage (176) configuré en vue de laver la pluralité de puits de réservoir (180) ; et

    un mécanisme d'entraînement (184) couplé au carrousel (177) et configuré pour faire tourner le carrousel (177) afin de positionner les puits de réservoir (180) par rapport à l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) et/ou à l'ensemble de pipette de lavage (176),

    dans lequel l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) est mobile entre une position de remplissage en vue d'obtenir du réactif à partir d'un récipient (211) à une station de remplissage (209) et une position de distribution en vue de remplir un ou plusieurs des puits de réservoir (180) avec du réactif provenant de la station de remplissage (209).


     
    2. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la station de remplissage (209) comporte une pluralité de récipients (211) contenant des réactifs; et dans lequel le dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) comprend en outre:

    une pluralité de stations de traitement de lames porte-objet;

    dans lequel l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) est mobile à travers une chambre intérieure du dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) pour transporter du réactif obtenu à la station de remplissage (209) jusqu'au carrousel (177) et pour distribuer des mélanges de réactifs à partir du carrousel (177) sur une des lames pour examen microscopique (156) qui se trouvent aux stations de traitement de lames porte-objet.


     
    3. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le mécanisme d'entraînement (184) est configuré en vue de faire tourner de façon séquentielle les puits de réservoir (180) en dessous d'une pipette de lavage (213) de l'ensemble de pipette de lavage (176).
     
    4. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) est configuré en vue de remplir la pipette de réactif (204) avec du réactif provenant d'un quelconque des puits de réservoir (180).
     
    5. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre un contrôleur (144) couplé en communication au mécanisme d'entraînement (184) et configuré en vue de commander le mécanisme d'entraînement (184) de telle manière que le mécanisme d'entraînement (184) déplace de façon séquentielle chacun des puits de réservoir (180) jusqu'à une position de lavage pour un lavage par l'ensemble de pipette de lavage (176).
     
    6. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 5, dans lequel le contrôleur (144) stocke et exécute des instructions pour commander l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) en vue de remplir les puits de réservoir (180) avec du réactif à partir de récipients de réactif (211).
     
    7. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre un contrôleur (144) contenant des instructions de mélange qui sont exécutables pour commander l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) de telle manière que l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) délivre au moins deux réactifs à un des puits de réservoir (180) en vue de produire un mélange de réactifs.
     
    8. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 7, dans lequel le contrôleur (144) contient des instructions de distribution de réactif mélangé qui sont exécutables pour commander l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) en vue de distribuer le mélange de réactifs sur un échantillon.
     
    9. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'ensemble de pipette de lavage (176) est fluidiquement couplé à une source de vide (237) et l'ensemble de pipette de lavage (176) extrait du liquide d'un des puits de réservoir (180) lorsque la source de vide (237) crée un vide.
     
    10. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le carrousel (177) comporte des déversoirs (187) configurés en vue de permettre au réactif de s'écouler des puits de réservoir (180) tout en empêchant un écoulement de réactif entre des puits de réservoir voisins (180).
     
    11. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel le carrousel (177) comporte un drain (183) et une pluralité de déversoirs (187) qui permettent à un débordement de réactif de s'écouler à partir des puits de réservoir (180) en direction du drain (183).
     
    12. Dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) selon la revendication 1, dans lequel la station de remplissage (209) comporte une pluralité de récipients (211) contenant des réactifs; et dans lequel le dispositif automatisé de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) comprend en outre:

    une station de traitement de lames porte-objet comportant

    une platine porte-lame (601) comportant une région de réception (680) configurée pour recevoir une lame porte-objet (156) avec un premier côté de la lame porte-objet (156) tourné vers la région de réception (680) et un second côté détourné de la région de réception (680); et

    un actionneur opposable (525) positionné de façon à tenir un élément opposable (810, 2012) afin de définir un intervalle capillaire (930) entre l'élément opposable (810, 2012) et une lame porte-objet (156) située à la région de réception (680), l'actionneur opposable (525) étant configuré de façon à déplacer l'intervalle capillaire (930) dans une première direction le long de la lame porte-objet (156) afin de déplacer une bande de liquide le long d'un second côté de la lame porte-objet (156) depuis une première position jusqu'à une deuxième position et à diminuer une largeur de la bande de liquide dans une direction sensiblement parallèle à la première direction,

    dans lequel l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) est mobile à travers une chambre intérieure du dispositif automatique de traitement de lames porte-objet (100) afin de transporter un réactif obtenu à la station de remplissage (209) jusqu'au carrousel (177) et de distribuer des mélanges de réactifs à partir du carrousel (177) sur une lame pour examen microscopique (156) à la station de traitement de lames porte-objet.


     
    13. Procédé de distribution de liquide sur une lame pour examen microscopique (156), le procédé comprenant les étapes suivantes:

    délivrer de façon séquentielle des réactifs à une pluralité de puits de réservoir (180) d'un carrousel (177) pour produire des mélanges de réactifs, dans lequel le carrousel (177) peut tourner afin de positionner de façon séquentielle les puits de réservoir (180) à une position de lavage;

    remplir au moins partiellement une pipette de réactif (204) avec un des mélanges de réactifs à partir d'un des puits de réservoir (180) pendant qu'au moins un des puits de réservoir (180) se trouve à la position de lavage;

    après le remplissage au moins partiel de la pipette de réactif (204) avec un réactif, déplacer à l'aide d'un robot la pipette de réactif (204) vers la lame pour examen microscopique (156) et distribuer le réactif sur la lame pour examen microscopique (156); et

    laver au moins un des puits de réservoir (180) lorsque ledit au moins un puits de réservoir (180) se trouve à la position de lavage;

    dans lequel l'ensemble de pipette de réactif (175) est mobile entre une position de remplissage pour obtenir un réactif à partir d'un récipient (211) à une station de remplissage (209) et une position de distribution pour remplir un ou plusieurs des puits de réservoir (180) avec du réactif provenant de la station de remplissage (209).


     
    14. Procédé selon la revendication 13, comprenant en outre les étapes suivantes:

    faire tourner le carrousel (177) pour positionner un des puits de réservoir (180) contenant un réactif à la position de lavage; et

    laver le puits de réservoir (180) à la position de lavage pour éliminer le réactif.


     




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    Cited references

    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



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    Patent documents cited in the description