The 88th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2019)

Best Practices for the Macerating Human Thyroid Cartilage


Anthropology, SUNY Binghamton

March 29, 2019 , CC Ballroom BC Add to calendar

The thyroid cartilage is the uppermost cartilage in the human larynx. Thyroid cartilage supports and protects the vocal cords as well as provides an attachment site for the hyoid bone via the thyrohyoid membrane. In forensic contexts, visible abnormalities on the thyroid cartilage may be indicative of perimortem trauma including ligature marks or stab wounds. During autopsy, the thyroid cartilage must be freed of surrounding soft tissue before these marks can be clearly observed; however, there is scant information on best practices for processing the thyroid cartilage.

We tested several processing methods on a sample of 40 donated human thyroid cartilages obtained through an anatomical supply company. Three main processing methods were utilized: (1) dermestid beetles; (2) heat maceration (160℉); and (3) chemical maceration with 300 mL solutions of (a) laundry detergent, (b) sodium borate, (c) bleach, (d) multi-purpose cleaner, and (e) papain. A 19-point scoring system adapted from Steadman and colleagues (2006) was used to test the efficacy of each maceration method. The scores are based on odor (0-3), soft tissue texture (0-3), ease of soft tissue removal (0-5), cartilage quality (0-5), and duration (0-3). Methods receiving a higher point score are deemed better as they performed well in multiple categories. With a final score of 18/19 (94.7%), chemical maceration using bleach was found to be the best method for removing the surrounding tissue from the thyroid cartilage. The recommended bleach method is inexpensive, quick, and requires almost no additional mechanical removal of soft tissue.

This project was supported by an award from the National Institute of Justice: 2016-DN-BX-0155.