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What Is a Histologist?

Histologists study the anatomy and physiology of biological tissue in a lab setting.
Microscopes are often used by histologists.
Clinical lab histologists study tissue samples provided by doctors to detect signs of disease.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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A histologist is a laboratory scientist who studies the anatomy and physiology of biological tissue samples. Most histologists work in clinical settings, such as hospital labs, to detect disease and other abnormalities in human tissue. Other professionals conduct empirical scientific research on samples to learn about genetics, cellular replication, and evolutionary history. All histologists have expert knowledge of many different types of tissue, and they employ specialized lab techniques to accurately identify and record relevant findings.

Histologists utilize many sophisticated pieces of laboratory equipment in their work. Microscopes and other precision imaging technology tools are frequently employed in both clinical and research labs. A professional uses specialized dyes that stain certain types of cells, making it easier to identify them under a microscope. Histologists also manipulate lab equipment to count, cut, and separate cells and their components. Those who study genetics use gels to separate strands of DNA and isolate proteins from cell samples.

Clinical lab histologists study tissue samples provided by physicians to look for signs of disease. A histologist studies a sample to identify common pathogens and cancers, and then records information in standard forms. He or she may also check for traces of toxins, illicit drugs, or radiation during biopsies or autopsies. Findings are reported back to doctors so they can make accurate diagnoses and determine the best means of treating certain conditions.

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A histologist who works in a scientific research laboratory might study living tissue from animals or plants. Scientists perform research for a vast array of reasons. A professional may wish to better understand how a particular organism develops or which genes are expressed in a specimen's DNA. Researchers also study the physiology of stem cells to understand how they change to form different types of body tissue. In addition, some scientists focus their research on the development of drugs to combat genetic diseases, cancer, and viruses.

The education and training requirements to become a histologist vary. Most clinical laboratories will hire new workers who hold bachelor's degrees in a life science or medical technology major. Professionals begin their careers as technicians, assisting experienced histologists in their work by setting up experiments, collecting and storing samples, and entering data into electronic files. An advanced degree and national licensure are often required to lead operations at a clinical lab.

A person who wants to work as a histologist in an independent research lab typically needs to obtain a Ph.D. in histology, microbiology, genetics, or organic chemistry. After earning a degree, a new scientist can become an assistant or associate researcher at a university, private lab, or biotechnology firm. A histologist is gradually given more responsibilities with experience in the field, and he or she eventually has the opportunity to organize and direct independent research studies.

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