Developing a quantitative method to assess the decomposition of embalmed human cadavers

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Embalmed human cadavers are an essential educational tool in forensic science and medicine. Cadavers are often embalmed to extend the period they can be used. Qualitative observations such as odours, tissue texture and colour are the only methods currently used by anatomists to assess the decomposition progress of embalmed cadavers. The aim of this study was to provide a first proof-of-concept to determine whether methylamine, putrescine, and cadaverine could be detected and monitored over time from embalmed human tissues. The hypothesis was that these three compounds would exhibit temporal trends to quantitate progress of decomposition in embalmed cadavers. Two human cadavers were embalmed using McGown solution and liver samples were analysed over 35 days. Liver samples were extracted, homogenised and derivatised to quantify the presence of methylamine, cadaverine and putrescine by gas chromatography - mass spectrometry. All three amines were detected in the tissue samples throughout the duration of the study. Both cadavers had elevated methylamine levels over putrescine and cadaverine at early stages postmortem. This was followed by peaking and reducing in different patterns by the two cadavers; however, the three compounds from a single cadaver changed in a similar pattern. The proposed experimental procedure provides a foundation for further development of quantitative biogenic amine methods to determine decomposition progress in embalmed human cadavers.




Balta, J. Y., Blom, G., Davidson, A., Perrault, K., Cryan, J. F., O’Mahony, S. M., & Cassella, J. P. (2020). Developing a quantitative method to assess the decomposition of embalmed human cadavers. Forensic Chemistry, 18.

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