The Didactic Advantage of Using the Thiel Method of Embalming

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A message from Adam Decker, human anatomy educator in the School of Biological Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA.

As a licensed embalmer since 1992, I have always been fascinated by the preservation of human tissues.  Preservation methods are especially important in the gross anatomy lab where students directly interact with tissues and potentially harmful chemicals. Because of the inherent risks associated with such close exposure and interaction, shouldn’t we explore techniques that might be able to reduce the risks associated with these harmful, potentially carcinogenic compounds?

In 1992, Austrian native Dr. Walter Thiel introduced a soft-fixed embalming procedure that he spent years perfecting by testing it on 1,000 cadavers. As the story goes, he noticed that meats that were cured with brine solution at a local butcher shop had a much more life-like appearance and texture as compared to the grayer and firmer cadavers that were embalmed using traditional formaldehyde. The formula he finally adopted enabled in-situ tissue to have a more pliable and life-like appearance, while it kept the carcinogenic effects to a minimum.

Benefits of Thiel’s technique include:

  • The ability to position limbs and joints within their anatomical limits
  • Reduced exposure to harmful chemicals
  • The presence of antimicrobial and antifungal properties
  • The usage of tissues in vast clinical simulated procedures (i.e. lumbar puncture and laparoscopic procedures)
  • Use of ultrasonography in clinical training and teaching anatomy
  • Odor reduction in the gross anatomy lab
  • A more realistic experience for surgeons when cutting through the skin of a Thiel embalmed body (it is much like cutting through living tissue)

The drawbacks are:

  • Salt solutions can possibly burn and discolor tissues, particularly in regions like the zygoma where some cadavers have little subcutaneous tissue over the malar bone.
  • The Thiel method has histologically changed some cellular arrangement in connective tissues like tendons. Studies involving tensile stress and strain on these tissues may result in inaccurate data.
  • Chemicals utilized are more expensive than traditional formalin fixed bodies.
  • Although longevity is evident in the Thiel fixed body, degradation of tissue may occur sooner than in formalin fixed bodies.

The solution itself is in essence a salt mixture that is arterially injected, just as in the typically prepared formalin cadavers.  This mixture is composed of the following compounds:

  • Ammonium nitrate
  • Potassium nitrate
  • Boric acid
  • Morpholine (fungicidal properties)
  • Sodium sulphite
  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Formalin
  • Ethylene glycol (surfactant)
  • 4-Chloro-3-methylphenol (disinfectant)

In my research, I identified several U.S. institutions that use the Thiel method for preparation, but the majority of U.S. programs are still using standard formalin fixed tissues. The Thiel method, however, is more commonly used in European countries.

Setting the Tone of the Class

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A message from Nichole Warwick, Clatsop Community College Biology instructor and member of the HAPS Communications Committee.

The start of the new term is always exciting, and on the quarter system, we typically begin spring term in late March. The first week of classes is a great time to set the tone of the class and to get student buy in to the way we teach, though it’s never too late to engage our students. In the past ten years of teaching at a small community college, I have slowly progressed away from the traditional lecture to classroom experiences that I hope will engage and clarify. You might call me a partial “flip” as I try to add new active learning strategies to the classroom, many ideas farmed shamelessly from the annual National HAPS conference. Because it is early in the term, I want to make an impression on the students that A&P is different; unlike any class you have taken before.

As engaging as I think my class is, I still fight for attention from my students as their electronics, devices, and lives draw their minds to other things. While the students wait for my class to start, they are often on their phones, and a few review their notes, but rarely is there engagement and most are not getting into the “A&P State of Mind.”  I was reading an article in document our state educational board OEA sends out and found an interesting tidbit about getting your student’s head in the game and it stimulated me to come up with something to catch their attention every day. Something that puzzles or challenges them and starts them thinking on our subject.

A sword in the belt...who knew it would help us learn about anatomy?
A sword in the belt…who knew it would help us learn about anatomy?

So I showed up with a sword in my belt (it was foam, not a real weapon). I didn’t say a word and went about my business. Eventually someone asked.  Many had wondered. As it was the first week, I have been trying to get them into the habit of asking questions, and it took a few times of asking “Does anyone have a question,” before a student took the bait. “Great question, I’ll show you in a minute.” I used the sword to demonstrate cuts along the planes of the body. Then the students were on their feet and imitating the cuts as I called them out.  We added speed, a little laughter, and had an effective lesson.

This has become my challenge: Can I get my students to wonder how today’s prop, picture, or activity relates to the material?  Some days are easy. Just today I showed up with envelopes holding index cards with some of the important terms for the day on them. We played a modified game of Taboo. One student put the card up to their forehead. The other students then had to describe the word without saying what it started with, or  too much nonsensical rhyming. It was challenging to all students in the group. They had to remember something about the word. My students got into groups as they came into class and played this while other students were arriving.  They were using their before class time to interact, review, laugh and they were thinking about the material for the day. Mission accomplished!

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Ewwww…definitely engaging!

I have also shown up to class with a cube of jello with noodles in it on a dissection tray- I posted a picture of this to our LMS the night before just to pique their curiosity. One time I brought in a snazzy little raccoon (our school mascot and a soft object) that was passed around the room. The initial student had to answer a review question. When that student finished their answer, the new student with the raccoon had to answer the next question. “What are the 4 types of tissues?” “What is matrix?”

Next week I’ll have three legos I sneak away from my children: three legos will be sitting at the front of the room (or maybe on each table)- one short and flat, one nice and square, and one tall and skinny. I bet at least a few immediately start wondering how this is related to A&P. Do you know?

Please Vote in the Elections for Board Positions!

President-Elect Ron Gerrits

Serving as an officer in any organization requires a commitment of time and effort. Because HAPS members generally lead busy lives, it can be a challenge finding candidates who are confident they can devote enough time to managing the current affairs of HAPS while also strategically planning for its future. In spite of these challenges, there was a strong response to the nomination process this year and the Nominating Committee is excited to finalize a slate of candidates that nearly fills the allotted slots allowed for balloting. In fact, we had more nominations this year than ever for multiple positions, such that we were not able to put all of those interested on the ballot. This increase in interest in leadership positions speaks well of the engagement level of the society and we are hopeful that it will continue into the future.

Besides identifying qualified candidates, an organization also benefits when there is a high level of participation by the general membership in the election process. I am requesting that all of us review the descriptions of the open positions, read the candidate statements and complete the ballots when received.

The positions that are up for election starting in July 2017 include the following:

President-Elect:
Election to this office involves a three-year commitment, one year each as President-Elect, President, and Past-President.  The year as President-Elect provides a year to become accustomed to serving on the Board of Directors before transitioning into the role of President.  The President, in consultation with the Board, provides direction and guidance by establishing and managing the policies and affairs of the Society.  Following the President’s term, they become Past-President to provide leadership continuity.  

Secretary:
The Secretary is responsible for maintaining the official records of the Society. This includes recording minutes of Board and general membership meetings, and maintaining bylaws and other corporate documents. The Secretary’s term of office is for two (2) years.

Regional Directors (Central & Southern Regions)
Although each Regional Director serves as a representative of one of the four HAPS regions to ensure diverse geographical representation on the Board of Directors, they are elected by the entire membership.  They act as a liaison between the region’s constituency and the Board and promote increased involvement of the region’s membership in the activities of the Society, including regional conferences.  Each Regional Director’s term of office is for two (2) years. The current incumbents each qualify to serve again.

The candidate information and biographies can be found here, which summarize the activities of these members both within and outside of HAPS.


HAPS members will receive ballots on March 13



HAPS members will receive ballots today, so please watch out for them in your email.  The voting will continue through March 31. Because we have three candidates for each Regional Director, as well as for Secretary, we are utilizing instant runoff voting this year (a form of preferential voting in Robert’s Rules of Order). Instant runoff voting is a form of rank order voting that is commonly used in universities and municipalities when there are more than two candidates for a position. It provides a mechanism for obtaining a majority vote without having to hold additional rounds of balloting, which might otherwise be required. You will be asked to rank candidates in order of preference (1-3). We understand that this can be challenging, especially if you consider all candidates strong, but it is necessary in order to hold the elections in an efficient manner.

Election results will be announced in April, as well as at the annual conference in Salt Lake City.

Thanks to everyone in advance for taking the time to participate in the election process. And a special thanks to those that have agreed to serve in office if elected. It is a commitment that benefits all in the society.


Ron Gerrits is the HAPS President-Elect & 2016-2017 Nominating Committee Chair.  He is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.  Vote now

Join Us at the HAPS 2017 Spring Regional

Get your taxes done early!  We are planning a full day of update speakers, workshops, and poster presentations for Saturday, April 15 in Tyler Texas.  Our morning update speaker will be Dr. Michael Beckstead, Associate Professor in the Department of Cellular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr. Beckstead will be speaking about dopamine neurons and Parkinson’s Disease.  In the afternoon, Dr. Lane Brunner, Dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Tyler, will talk about how team-based learning has been implemented in the Doctor of Pharmacy program.

As always, workshops will be given by HAPS members.  Do you have a unique approach to teaching a lab or a new angle to get complicated ideas across?  Have you found a solution to a common challenge or a new tool (or a new way to use an old tool) that helps your students?  If you need to practice your presentation for the national conference in Salt Lake City, or you won’t be able to attend the SLC conference, we’re here for you!  Submit your workshop proposal by March 24.

Posters will be set up adjacent to the workshop rooms. If you have an idea that suits a poster more than a workshop – even if it’s a poster you’ve already presented in another venue – we’ll have a place for you to share what you’ve done.  A simple idea, or an exploratory look at some new teaching tip, tool, or resource can easily be translated into a poster.  Poster submissions have the same deadline as workshop submissions, March 24.

We’ll be meeting in the newly-renovated A&P labs, so you can get some ideas from our faculty about how technology can be implemented in the lab. The use of overhead cameras to show specimens, iPads in the classroom, and structured group activities can be explored.

At the end of the day, we’ll have the opportunity to tour our new nursing and health science facility, including the simulation lab for nursing students (see image below). The first floor has an area that is set up basically as a hospital, so students get real-world training in LVN, surgical technology, and other fields. There is also a working dental clinic.

If you’re planning to come in Friday afternoon or stay over Saturday night, look for a link to the accommodations on the registration page. If you’re bringing family with you, they can explore our Center for Earth and Space Science Education (CESSE, http://sciencecenter.tjc.edu/) and the Tyler Museum of Art (http://www.tylermuseum.org/), both adjacent to the building where our conference will be held.  If there is enough interest, we can plan a social event for either Friday or Saturday evening. I look forward to seeing you all!

Betsy Ott, Conference Coordinator
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Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? PART 2

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A message from Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens.
  • This message from Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens is Part 2 of a 3 Part Series; “Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read

(To review Part 1 visit the link:   -PART 1 ).

Vocabulary comprehension is a crucial component of any student’s education. Research has been done about how to best teach content-specific vocabulary (Stinnett, 2012), and having competent instructors is certainly a key component. To teach non-content-specific vocabulary, teachers at the elementary level need to have “specialized linguistic knowledge” (Phelps & Schilling, 2004) to effectively teach reading. Reading comprehension is assessed primarily with standardized testing assessing Common Core standards (Fisher & Frey, 2014). These Common Core standards emphasize that “teaching to the test” will no longer work and that there is hope that reading improvement could be on the way (Hirsh, 2010). Content-specific subject tests, such as science and math tests, are also useful in assessing reading and vocabulary comprehension.

There is growing concern in the education community about an apparent lack of vocabulary mastery. A strong emphasis was placed on reading under the 2001 “No Child Left Behind Law” (Hirsh, 2010), which aimed to improve test scores across all subject areas. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that the nation’s average reading scores in 2009 for grades 4 and 8 are not statistically different from those in either 2007 or 2001. While there has been no marked improvement in reading scores, math scores “have seen an upward trend after the instatement of the law in 2001” (Hirsh, 2010). A study conducted in 1983 showed that students had difficulty comprehending assigned tests, seemingly due to issues with vocabulary comprehension, not content complexity (Moore, Readence & Rickelman). Content-specific comprehension could also be linked to reading strategies, as passive readers appear to have more difficulty comprehending science texts than active readers (Croner, 2003).

Vocabulary comprehension is not only important for success on individual scholastic tasks such as exams, but also for a student’s overall outlook for success. In an article written for the publication Principal, E.D. Hirsch Jr. states that “Verbal scores are highly correlated with a student’s life chances and contributions to society” (2010). It is crucial that students who appear to be struggling with vocabulary comprehension are identified and given supplemental assistance, as “Vocabulary growth rate differences accumulated over time such that the effect on vocabulary size was large” (Duff, Tomblin & Catts, 2015). This means that the gap between high-achieving students and underperforming students continues to widen over time.

Several instructional methods have been shown to be particularly effective in improving vocabulary comprehension in lower grades. One such technique is scaffolding. Scaffolding, or using complex texts written at a level higher than a student’s current grade level, can “build confidence and competency [in] decoding unfamiliar words” (Fisher & Fray, 2014). Encouraging teachers to read aloud to students can help students understand “text structure, word solving and comprehension strategies so that skills are built and habits are formed” (Regan & Berkeley, 2012). Teachers should also emphasize that their students “read widely from texts they want to read, building their background knowledge and vocabulary while developing morally, emotionally, and intellectually” (Ivey & Johnston, 2013). Furthermore, according to Patrick Croner who compared active to passive reading comprehension in science texts, active readers demonstrate more metacognition and utilize pre-reading and during-reading strategies to improve comprehension. Passive readers, on the other hand, tend to be much less engaged in the text. Consequently, Croner recommends using varied reading strategies to turn passive readers into active readers to improve their textual comprehension (2003).

Outside of the classroom, reading for pleasure is an indicator for vocabulary success. Students who read on their own are more likely to encounter low-frequency words and improve their vocabulary than their minimally-reading counterparts (Duff, Tomblin & Catts, 2015). It has also been demonstrated that reading aloud with preschoolers, and asking the children questions while being read stories, improves vocabulary acquisition (Senechal, 1997).

To give students the tools they need to be successful in college and beyond, steps need to be taken throughout development, beginning with preschool-age students at home and continuing throughout elementary and high school.  The inability to understand basic vocabulary is an issue best solved before students reach the collegiate level. However, new developments and novel approaches of teaching content and reading comprehension to college students using adaptive computer software (Ray & Belden, 2007) could be promising for struggling students.

Come back next week to hear about a research project conducted within the microcosm of Southern Adventist University students last semester to further investigate the extent of this problem. 

Literature Cited

Croner, P. E. (2003). Strategies for teaching science content reading. The Science Education Review 2(4), 104-19

Duff, D., Tomblin, J. B., & Catts, H. (2015). The influence of reading on vocabulary growth: A case for a Matthew effect. Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research 58, 853-64.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014) Scaffolded reading instruction of content-area texts. Read Teach The Reading Teacher 67(5), 347-51.

Hirsch, E. D. (2010). Teaching content is teaching reading. Principal. (November/December) 10-14.

Ivey, G., & Johnston, P. (2013). Engagement with young adult literature: Processes and outcomes. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(3), 1-21.

Moore, D. W., Readence, J. E., & Rickelman, R. J. (1983). An historical exploration of content area reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 18(4), 419-38.

Phelps, G., & Schilling, S. (2004). Developing measures of content knowledge for teaching reading. The Elementary School Journal, 105(1), 31-48.

Ray, R. D., & Belden, N. (2007). Teaching college level content and reading comprehension skills simultaneously via an artificially intelligent adaptive computerized instructional system. The Psychological Record 57, 201-18.

Regan, K., & Berkeley, S. (2012). Effective reading and writing instruction: A focus on modeling. Intervention in School & Clinic, 47(5), 276-282.

Senechal, M. (1997). The differential effect of storybook reading on preschoolers’ acquisition of expressive and receptive vocabulary. Journal of Child Language 24(1), 123-38.

Stinnett, M. (2012). Content area reading pedagogy and domain knowledge. Illinois Reading Council Journal, 40(3), 70-5.

HAPS Membership: Lots of Options

A message from the HAPS Executive Director, Peter English.
A message from the HAPS Executive Director, Peter English.

So as the HAPS Executive Director, things like different types of memberships is something that gets me going.  HAPS is very inclusive, and we have lots of membership types to match your needs as members.  There might even be a few membership types you may not know about! So check out your options.

Multi-year Regular Membership – These are pretty self explanatory, but what may not be clear is how much they help HAPS.  HAPS has always had a challenge with members letting memberships lapse in years when they are not attending the Annual Conference.  These multi-year memberships really help HAPS function and give us an ability to plan appropriately for future expenses.

Conference Membership – If you register for the Annual Conference as a non-member, you will receive a complimentary one-year membership.  This type of membership is great for members expecting to come to HAPS each year, because otherwise it would exacerbate the retention challenge mentioned above.  The only member benefit not accrued to this membership type is member pricing on the next Annual Conference registration.  This membership type expires one year from the registration date.

Contingent Faculty Membership – Did you know that most organizations didn’t even have a definition of contingent faculty when this membership type was created at HAPS?  The HAPS definition definition is on our website, and this is meant to include those who likely don’t have much if any institutional support where they teach.  HAPS can be the support system for these contingent faculty who need it.  

High School Teacher Membership – There are high school A&P programs across the country and we are pleased to include these instructors in HAPS.  We also have a high-school specific discussion group that runs on the same back-end platform as the more widely known (and incredibly valuable) HAPS-L discussion group.

Student Membership – This is the membership category that we get the most calls about.  This membership is for full-time students – the kind of person who answers the question, “What do you do?” with something along the lines of, “I go to school.”  This is not intended for people taking a class here or there.  That said, we have been fortunate to have really awesome student members, many of whom have had a big impact on the organization!  Thanks students!

Retired Faculty Membership – This is an obvious category, but there are advantages to this type of membership, including a reduced cost Annual Conference registration.  Did you know that there is a related semi-secret membership for retired long-time members of HAPS?  If you are a member in HAPS for all ten years before your retirement, you can ask for an Emeritus Membership.  This is a cost-free, lifetime HAPS membership starting with the first year after retirement.  

Clearly, there are lots of options, but the most important thing is that you stay a member! We need you to renew your membership and continue to be a part of our community!  Few other organizations have as many opportunities for participation in governance, for year-round communication and collaboration, and for just plain camaraderie.   

A Peek Behind the Podium

A message from Krista Rompolski, member of the HAPS ComCom.
A message from Krista Rompolski, member of the HAPS ComCom.

After 10 years of college and a terminal degree, it’s hard to imagine choosing to put yourself back into a situation as a student again. On the other hand, if we spent that many years, or more, in college, it is because we love to learn, and are passionate about what we study. More than any other conference I’ve attended or group I’ve belonged to, the HAPS community is brimming with professors and professionals who love what they do. As an A&P professor, I spend most of my time not at work in my own world. It’s not exactly a passion that can easily share with anyone not in the field, so my friends and family were surprised (but not really that surprised) that I applied for the 2-year Anatomy Training Program through the American Academy of Anatomists. I was fortunate and privileged to be admitted to this program.

In order to meet a number of requirements of the program, I enrolled in our college’s Gross Anatomy course for the Doctoral PT students. This is taught by my senior colleagues, and for an added twist, I’m sitting among many students who I had in A&P as undergraduates and stayed at Drexel for their DPT. After teaching for 5 years, still being (relatively) young and not too long out of school myself, I thought that I would have some advantage over these students, having gone through the hard work of a terminal degree and teaching A&P already. In fact, since I knew I would be placed in a lab group with 5 other students, I was very concerned about not steamrolling them, or guiding too much, out of fear of interfering with their learning. The past few weeks have taught me, in more ways than one, that I still have so much to learn. Here is the first lesson.

Lesson 1: My anatomy education has only just begun

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The study zone…

There’s no simpler way to say it- I’m stumped every day. I stand over a body confident after studying Grant’s atlas, reading Moore’s Clinical Anatomy and looking at as many cadaver photos as I can, only to lose orientation as I move from one cadaver to the next. All my experience in gross anatomy lab until now had been handling joint preparations and prosections, often neatly labeled and tagged (by the gross lab elves, I assumed) by the time I brought my A&P students to lab. The difference between photos in a text and the actual body is staggering. Even if by some magic, all the colors were the same in the body as in the text (oh if only nerves were bright yellow and arteries bright red, how much time would we save?) the lack of 3D visualization is a major stumbling block to overcome when dissecting.

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…and more study zone.

It saddens me to think that cadaver education might be going by the wayside in the advent of digital resources. There simply can’t be a substitute to feeling the springy give of an artery, or tracing the terminal branches of the brachial plexus from the cords to the innervated muscles.

No matter how humbling, this experience is showing me the value of continuing to challenge yourself and further your education. If we aren’t willing to do so, why should our students?

Wish me luck!