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Ethanol-glycerin fixation with thymol conservation: A potential alternative to formaldehyde and phenol embalming


  • Drs. Niels Hammer and Sabine Löffler contributed equally to this work.


Anatomical fixation and conservation are required to prevent specimens from undergoing autolysis and decomposition. While fixation is the primary arrest of the structures responsible for autolysis and decomposition, conservation preserves the state of fixation. Although commonly used, formaldehyde has been classified as carcinogenic to humans. For this reason, an adequate substitute was developed. Ethanol-glycerin fixation and thymol conservation are described and compared with formaldehyde and phenol in this technical report. The setup, tissue qualities, financial aspects, and health concerns of this method are discussed. Ethanol-glycerin fixation and thymol conservation provide outstanding haptic and optic tissue qualities. Typical formaldehyde and phenol effects, such as skin, airway, and eye irritation, as well as carcinogenic effects, can be circumvented by using ethanol-glycerin and thymol instead. Ethanol-glycerin fixation is more expensive than formaldehyde and requires an explosion-proof facility. However, the absence of health effects and its convincing tissue qualities balance these higher costs. Therefore, ethanol-glycerin fixation and thymol conservation provide a potential alternative and complement established fixation techniques. The use of carcinogenic formaldehyde and toxic phenol can be effectively restricted through the use of the described method. Anat Sci Educ. © 2012 American Association of Anatomists.