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Theses and Dissertations

Name:John W. Powell III
Professor:Erin H. Kimmerle

Multiple Stain Histology of Skeletal Fractures: Healing and Microtaphonomy


The forensic examination of wounds is one of the key elements of analysis performed by forensic anthropologists and forensic pathologists. Gross examination and histological analysis can be used to determine the timing of the wound and its cause. While forensic pathologists are trained to analyze hard and soft tissue wounds, forensic anthropologists, bioarchaeologists, and paleopathologists, focus on hard tissue. Forensic anthropologists have the added benefit of potentially working with residual soft tissue and would benefit from the incorporation of microscopy techniques that take advantage of the soft tissue to better understand perimortem events. Little research has been published that examines if any healing processes, the defining characteristic of an antemortem wound that do not progress beyond the time of death, are preserved within the tissues beyond death and how long they may be visible.
The objectives of this study were to examine if the use of multiple stains will allow earlier visualization of healing processes in skeletal fractures than gross examination and to observe the length of time microscopic healing structures remain visible after death. A total of 224 slides from 19 specimens representing both fractured and un-fractured bones for control samples were taken from nine autopsied individuals at the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office and analyzed using four stains: Hemotoxylin and eosin (H&E), trichrome, Prussian blue, and elastin stain. Slides were analyzed using a set of 14 scored variables and evaluated with nonparametric statistical tests and cluster analyses. H&E, trichrome, and elastin stains were useful in examining wound age and survival time categories were significantly different for presence of elastin and presence of hemorrhage. H&E and trichrome stains proved useful for observing residual healing structures after death and time cohorts after time of autopsy were significantly different for 11 variables. Results from this study support further testing with larger sample sizes, including samples with a wider range of survival time, to better predict survival times of fractures and time since death.