Re: paraffin survey
I've been a pathologist since - gack - 1964 - and, while there've been many
ups and downs, in general the slides are a great deal better than they were
when I was a resident. I have the abiding suspicion that improved embedding
media are the biggest single reason for this improvement.
In 1964 tissue was embedded in paraffin - a complex and ill defined mixture
of natural aliphatic hydrocarbons (the word "paraffin" is a blend of two
Latin words "parum affinis" literally meaning 'little related' - doesn't
combine with anything). You could actually go to the grocery store and buy
the wax that home canners used, and some labs did this.
Today's embedding media are complex mixtures of organic molecules that may
have been mentioned in my 1957 organic chemistry course some spring day when
I cut class to drink beer on the banks of the Charles. Their composition is
entirely trade secret, and even if it were revealed it wouldn't tell most of
it very much. This evolution occurred with little if any documentation in the
literature - for example, a review of embedding media in the J Histotechnol a
few years ago barely mentioned it.
What happened? I've always wondered.
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