Tissue Biomechanics of the Human Head are Altered by Thiel Embalming, Restricting its Use for Biomechanical Validation
Thiel embalming is a well-known method of anatomical fixation giving lifelike optical and haptic tissue properties. Beyond these characteristics, Thiel embalming may also be a promising method to provide lifelike tissues for validation purposes of human head biomechanics. Recent investigations using Thiel-embalmed human tissues of the upper and lower limb yielded contradicting biomechanical results on fixation-induced changes in the tissues' load-deformation behavior. It is to date unclear if Thiel embalming may have a softening or stiffening effect on human soft tissues or no global effect on biomechanics compared to the fresh state, with the latter being the most desirable outcome. The given study aimed at assessing the effects of Thiel embalming on the uniaxial tensile properties of human head soft tissues. Age-matched fresh and Thiel-embalmed dura mater, temporalis muscle, temporalis muscle fascia, and scalp samples were examined. Dura, fascia, and scalp samples showed significantly different elastic moduli compared to fresh tissues (all P < 0.01). The observed ultimate tensile strength supports the theory of an increased collagen crosslinking of the embalmed tissues when compared to the fresh state. Thiel-embalmed muscles failed any tensile testing approach as a result of the muscles dissolving due to the embalming. Furthermore, collagen integrity seems altered in scanning electron microscopy by the Thiel embalming, limiting their use for ultrastructural failure analyses. Thiel-embalmed soft tissues may consequently not serve to reflect the biomechanical properties of the human head. Consequently, the application of Thiel embalming should be limited to preliminary tests for biomechanical purposes.