Attempting to Understand the Effects of Thiel Embalming and Addressing Potential Legislative Changes

  • Seaneen Tennent

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Thiel embalmed cadavers were first used by the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, in 2009, marking their introduction to the UK having been developed by Professor Walter Thiel in the University of Graz, Austria, over a thirty year period to 1992. The cadavers produced by the Thiel embalming method have many advantages over those produced by the more traditional formalin-phenol based method including a high degree of flexibility on par with in vivo conditions. However there is a distinct paucity of information regarding the way in which Thiel embalming affects the cadaveric tissues and the inherent implications for anatomical teaching and research. In addition, the Thiel solution uses formalin and boric acid, two chemicals which may be affected by changes in legislation governing their use within the EU. On that basis, the need to understand the effects of Thiel embalming on tissues, as well as the need to investigate the potential removal of formalin and boric acid from the Thiel solution, was acknowledged.

    This study presents an analysis of the effects of Thiel embalming using skeletal muscle and tendon samples, taken from an animal model, as these tissues are believed to be important to the flexibility of Thiel cadavers, using a number of methods. The way in which the effects are related to the flexibility caused is also considered in the context of existing relevant literature. In addition, the potential to remove and replace formalin and boric acid from the standard Thiel solution is also addressed. In assessing the effects of Thiel embalming solution on skeletal muscle and tendon, the aim of the thesis is to test the hypotheses that (i) changes in muscle and/or tendon structure, particularly in relation to collagen content, are responsible for the exaggerated flexibility seen in cadavers preserved using this method, (ii) it is the high salt content of Thiel embalming solution which is responsible for the change in tissue structure, and
    (iii) is it possible to replace the formalin and boric acid content of the Thiel solution and continue to successfully preserve specimens for anatomical teaching and research.

    The results of this study indicate that Thiel embalmed tissues, skeletal muscle in particular, undergo considerable histological modifications to their internal structure when compared to formalin and fresh samples whilst gross structure appears to remain intact through the maintenance of connective tissue integrity. This is supported by results which show a change in the biomechanical characteristics and protein content profile of target tissues. It is suggested that these changes are the basis for the increased flexibility observed in Thiel embalmed specimens. The results of a pilot study also indicate that it is possible to replace formalin and boric acid from the Thiel solution whilst maintaining successful preservation of specimens. A number of preservation techniques are considered throughout the study including Thiel, formalin and modified Thiel, and are compared to fresh samples as a control. A number of methods, including histological, biomechanical and protein analysis, are used to investigate differences between samples from each treatment group.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsGreenhouse Studentship
    SupervisorRoger Soames (Supervisor) & Paul Felts (Supervisor)

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