Soft Fix Embalming. Better than ‘fresh.’

Whilst visiting Newcastle University last year, I was introduced to a remarkable new breakthrough in the world of embalming, the ‘Super Soft Fix’, which I am delighted will be the format for my Oxford University classes from 2017 and will also become standard in all my other classes as well.

Traditionally, embalmed cadavers found in medical schools have always been somewhat stiff and immobile.  The classical embalming technique uses formaldehyde and other chemicals, which are pumped around the circulatory system to ‘fix’ the cadaver and prevent decay.

The advantages of this technique is a cadaver which can be made available to students for an extended period of time and which will not deteriorate.  The drawbacks are that for physical and movement therapists, the cadaver does not move well through the joints and the feel of the embalmed body is one of it being quite unyielding.  In addition some people have concerns about the use of formaldehyde in terms of safety, particularly in the USA, although the end user risk is tiny.

Other Approaches

Over the years other approaches have been used, including the Thiel Method which is indeed a useful addition, but relatively complex and, in my opinion, doesn’t give the best results.  Other magic mixes have been proposed but again my experience of these has not been good.

The other only viable option and one which has been touted as ‘the best’, has been to use fresh or fresh frozen, referred to as ‘unfixed’ cadavers. This is useful for surgical practice, but the drawbacks are obvious as nature takes over and makes a more leisurely dissection more challenging.  I discuss these challenges on this page.

The technique being used in Newcastle has been pioneered by Ben Whitworth from Dodge Company Ltd a leading funeral supplies company.  The embalming process uses a very tiny amount of formaldehyde as well as other elements, but the end result is the most incredibly ‘lifelike’ and well preserved cadaver that I have ever seen.

Major Advantages

There is no odour and the deeper areas of the viscera, brain and spinal cord are perfectly preserved, yet soft and pliable.  I have been championing this approach ever since and am delighted that some of the universities I work with have been open enough to trial this technique.

As a result, Oxford University have now gone over completely to this method and are delighted with the results.  We will hopefully be using this type of embalmed cadaver for all our future courses and it will influence my decisions about where we work in the future.

I am incredibly excited by this development which will enable a greater understanding of the pliable nature of connective tissues and how they really operate.

I believe that this technique is such that it will revolutionise the study of anatomy and the teaching of dissection.