[Histonet] National Academy of Sciences Confirms That Formaldehyde Can Cause Cancer in a Finding That Has Implications for Anatomic Pathology and Histology Laboratories

John Kiernan jkiernan at uwo.ca
Tue Jul 14 00:11:25 CDT 2015

Dear Banjo,

A reference to the article would be helpful; there must be more to it than one sentence! 

Formaldehyde has been known for decades to be hazardous, and there are safety regulations in places where it is used. Plenty of old-timers are still alive and well after woking with formaldehyde in the days when there were few or no regulations. I'm one of them.
>From about 1895 until about 1995 (and perhaps still, in some universities), every medical student spent most of the working day for at least a year with his or her nose and bare hands in a cadaver that had been embalmed in a cocktail containing phenol and formaldehyde. The predominant smell was the phenol, except when dissecting brains, which were fixed and stored in 4% formaldehyde. 

About 35 years ago, the American Association of Anatomists investigated effects of exposure to embalming chemicals on teachers of anatomy, who are in the dissecting room year after year. The only significant finding was eczema on the hands of some people, long known to be avoidable by wearing rubber gloves. Yes, I too should be able to provide a reference, but this was in the days of paper, which gets thrown out to make room for more paper ... There might be something deep in the archives at http://www.anatomy.org/

Other chemicals used in anatomy, pathology and histology labs also have their dangers; we avoid drinking them, rubbing them into our skin and inhaling their vapours, and we do our best to observe the safety regulations when it comes to getting rid of them. 

There is no "substitute" fixative functionally identical to formaldehyde. There are other fixatives, some less hazardous, but they have different effects on staining properties etc. The late Holde Puchtler published papers urging pathologists to use non-aqueous coagulant fixatives for routine fixation of small specimens, with her Carnoy variant "methacarn" (methanol 60, acetic acid 10, chloroform 30) as the probable best, also good for some modern molecular methods. For this I can provide a few references:

Puchtler, H., Waldrop, F.S., Meloan, S.N., Terry, M.S. and Connor, H.M. (1970). Methacarn (methanol-Carnoy) fixation. Practical and theoretical considerations. Histochemie 21:97-116.

Cox, M.L., Schray, C.L., Luster, C.N., Stewart, Z.S., Korytko, P.J., Khan, K.N.M., Paulauskis, J.D. and Dunstan, R.W. (2006). Assessment of fixatives, fixation and tissue processing on morphology and RNA integrity. Experimental and Molecular Pathology 80:183-191.

Buesa, R.J. (2008). Histology without formalin? Annals of Diagnostic Pathology 12:387-396.

Uneyama, C., Shibutani, M., Masutomi, N., Takagi, H. and Hirose, M. (2002). Methacarn fixation for genomic DNA analysis in microdissected paraffin-embedded tissue specimens. Journal of Histochemistry and Cytochemistry 50:1237-1245.

Milcheva, R., Janega, P., Celec, P., Russev, R. and Babal, P. (2013). Alcohol based fixatives provide excellent tissue morphology, protein immunoreactivity and RNA integrity in paraffin embedded tissue specimens. Brain Research Protocols 115:279-289.

Greer, C.E., Peterson, S.L., Kiviat, N.B. and Manos, M.M. (1991). PCR amplification from paraffin-embedded tissues. American Journal of Clinical Pathology 95:117-124.

Tissue processing is extremely simple after non-aqueous coagulant fixation, and most of the stages of a processing machine are not needed. Nuclear chromatin details are much sharper than after formaldehyde. This may not be seen as a blessing by young and middle-aged pathologists. In bygone days the routine fixatives contained mercuric chloride, which gives crisp chromatin and cytoplasmic details. The heterochromatin details probably are artifacts of fixation, but they are useful for identifying cells.

John Kiernan
Old neuroanatomist and histochemist
UWO, London, Canada
Also Secretary, Biological Stain Commission
= = =
On 13/07/15, "Adesupo, Adesuyi (Banjo)"  <abadesuyi at nrh-ok.com> wrote:
>  Hi,
>  I read this article (National Academy of Sciences Confirms That Formaldehyde Can Cause Cancer in a Finding That Has Implications for Anatomic Pathology and Histology Laboratories) this morning.
>  I wanted to know whether some of you guys out there are using Formaldehyde substitute.
>  Best regards,
>  Banjo Adesuyi, BMLS, HT (ASCP) HTL, QIHC, QLS
>  Histology Supervisor
>  Norman Regional Health System,
>  Norman, OK 73071.
>  Tel: 405- 307- 1145
>  abadesuyi at nrh-ok.com<mailto:abadesuyi at nrh-ok.com <abadesuyi at nrh-ok.com>>
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