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5 Ways to Get Students Energized about Hematology

Grace Chukwuekwu
Higher Education
Teaching with Labster

Hematology is the science or study of blood and blood diseases and its main purpose is to detect and correct problems that affect white blood cells,  red blood cells, platelets, blood vessels, bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, or the proteins that require them. A  specialist in this field is known as a hematologist.

Hematologists focus primarily on the lymphatic system and bone marrow and can diagnose abnormalities in blood or platelet counts and they treat the organs that blood cells supply,  including the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland, and lymphatic tissue.

This includes the treatment of diseases that affect the production of blood and its components such as blood cells, hemoglobin, blood proteins, bone marrow, platelets, blood vessels, spleen, and clotting mechanisms. These diseases can include hemophilia, blood clots,  other blood clotting disorders, and blood cancers such as leukemia,  multiple myeloma, and lymphoma. Laboratory blood tests are often performed by a  medical laboratory scientist or medical technician.

Read on why this can be a daunting topic for teachers and students,  five suggestions for changing this unpleasant outcome, and thoughts on why virtual labs can make things easier.

Why hematology can be tricky

There are three reasons especially why hematology can be tough for even the most diligent student.

1. It feels abstract

Before the days of microscopy, only the appearance of blood could be examined. When viewed in a glass container, the clotted blood appears to form distinct layers and It is believed that health and disease result from the proper mixture or imbalance of these layers.

2. It’s content-heavy

When the formed elements are removed from the blood, what remains is a straw-colored liquid called plasma. Plasma is about 91.5% water and 8.5% solutes, most of which (7%) by weight is protein. Some proteins in plasma are also found elsewhere in the body, but proteins that are confined to the blood are called plasma proteins. This protein plays a role in maintaining proper osmotic blood pressure, which is crucial for general body fluid balance. Most plasma proteins are synthesized by the liver, including albumin (54% plasma protein), globulins (38%), and fibrinogen (7%). Other substances dissolved in plasma include waste products such as urea, uric acid, creatinine, ammonia, and bilirubin; nutrition; vitamin; regulatory substances such as enzymes and hormones; gas; and electrolytes.

Formed Elements

The blood elements formed are classified into red blood cells (erythrocytes), white blood cells (leukocytes), and platelets (platelets), and their numbers remain very constant for any healthy individual.

3. It’s complicated

Blood is made up of numerous parts, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets (together about 45% of the volume) and plasma (about 55% of the volume). Red blood cells (erythrocytes), which make up about 45% of all blood, convey oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues. They also transport carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled. They are disc-shaped and are produced in the bone marrow.

White blood cells (leukocytes), also produced in the bone marrow, help combat infection. Together with platelets, they make up less than 1% of all blood. Platelets (also called blood platelets) are small, colorless fragments that stick together and engage with clotting proteins to stop or prevent bleeding. The bone marrow produces these clotting factors.

Plasma is the yellowish liquid part of the blood.

5 ways to make hematology a more approachable topic

1. Show the people behind the science

The study of blood has a very long history,  beginning with the microscopic examination of blood by Leeuwenhoek and others in the  17th century.

In 1658 the Dutch naturalist Jan Swammerdam was the first to observe red blood cells under a microscope, and in 1695 the microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek,  also a Dutchman,  was the first to draw illustrations of "red blood cells", as they were called. Blood cells were no longer detected until 1842 when the French physician Alfred Donne discovered platelets. The following year, leukocytes were first observed simultaneously by Gabriel Andral, a French professor of medicine, and William Addison, a British physician. Both men believed that red and white blood cells change with disease. With this discovery, hematology,  a new field of medicine,  was founded. Although tissue and cell staining were available,  there was hardly any progress in the knowledge of blood cell morphology until 1879,  when Paul Ehrlich published his technique for staining blood smears and his method of differential blood cell counting.

2. Relate it to the real world

One of the most common hematological tests is a  complete blood count. Often performed during routine check-ups, this test can detect anemia, blood clotting problems, blood cancers, immune system disorders, and infections.

A hematology instrument is a  machine that analyzes blood. Used in medical laboratories, hematology instruments can perform blood tests,  detect proteins or enzymes, and help diagnose diseases or genetic defects. Instruments include analyzers,  flow cytometers, coagulation analyzers, and slide stains. Hematology analyzers help diagnose anemia, infections, viruses, genetic problems, diabetes, and cancer,  as well as determine plasma drug levels,  both therapeutic and illicit drugs. Flow cytometers count blood cells and detect biomarkers that indicate certain types of cancer or organ deficiencies. The coagulation analyzer tests how long it takes blood to clot,  allowing monitoring of blood-thinning medications. Slide stain automatically creates and stains slides from blood samples.

Hematology analyzers are used to count and identify blood cells with high speed and accuracy.

A hematology analyzer is used to create a  complete blood count,  which is usually the first test a  doctor asks to determine a patient's overall health. A  complete blood count includes red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, platelet counts, and packed cell volume levels. Hematology Control is used to investigate hematology test results, calibrate hematology analyzers, and monitor the performance of diagnostic hematology tests. This product may contain white blood cells, red blood cells, hemoglobin, and whole blood cells.

3. Seeing is believing

Blood is the most common body fluid used for analytical purposes. Blood should be drawn carefully and with proper precautions to ensure test results are reliable, sample contamination is avoided and infection by blood-borne pathogens is prevented. Proper collection and reliable processing of blood samples are important parts of the laboratory diagnostic process. All materials of human origin should be treated as capable of transmitting infection. Specimens from patients who have or are at risk of infection with hepatitis or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) require special attention. When taking blood samples, disposable rubber gloves should be worn. 

Microscopic examination of peripheral blood is most often performed by making a slide smear, staining, and examining a thin layer of blood (smear) on a slide. With the use of an automatic counter that determines the number of hemoglobin, hematocrit, erythrocytes, leukocytes, and platelets along with Mean corpuscular volume, Mean corpuscular hemoglobin mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration, and red cell distribution width, leukocyte differential, and histogram.

Blood smear examination is an important part of the hematological evaluation and the validity or reliability of the information obtained from the evaluation of the blood smear, and differential leukocyte count is highly dependent on a well-made and well-examined film.

Giemsa Stain is an Alcohol-based Romanowsky stain that is to be diluted in pH 7.1-7.2 buffered water before use. Provides the best malaria parasite staining in solid films and staining of other blood parasites. The dye uses the principle of destroying red blood cells and staining leukocytes and parasites from blue to purple. The Giemsa staining method is satisfactory.

The red blood cell index is a  measurement that describes the size and content of oxygen-carrying protein (hemoglobin) in red blood cells. They are also called the absolute red blood cell value or erythrocyte index. The index is used to aid in the differential diagnosis of anemia. Anemia is a  condition in which the number of red blood cells, or the concentration of hemoglobin in them, is lower than normal and can be caused by various diseases or conditions. The first step in treatment is to determine the type of anemia a  person has. The red blood cell index helps classify anemia.

4. Make it stick with word-play

Hematology is a broad and complex aspect of medicine. The following memory aids can help students save time and clear up ambiguities, or better yet, encourage them to create their own. 

White blood cells are regarded as WBCs

Red blood cells as RBCs

complete blood count as CBC

Mean corpuscular volume as MCV

Mean corpuscular hemoglobin as MCH

Mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration as MCHC

red cell distribution width as RDW

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A unique way to teach hematology is through a virtual laboratory simulation. At Labster, we’re dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems, inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Check out the Labster hematology simulation that allows students to learn about hematology through active, inquiry-based learning. In the simulation, students will go on a mission to help some street basketball players understand how the food they eat gets converted to energy.

Hematology GIF

Learn more about the hematology simulation here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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