BACKGROUND: In medical training and research fresh human tissue is often replaced by preserved human or fresh animal tissue, due to availability and ethical reasons. Newer preservation approaches, such as the Thiel method, promise more realistic mechanical properties than conventional formaldehyde fixation. Concerning animal substitute material, porcine and bovine tissue is often chosen, as it is easily obtainable and certain similarity to human tissue is assumed. However, it has not been thoroughly investigated how Thiel preservation changes non-linear and viscoelastic behaviour of soft organ tissues. Furthermore, differences in these properties between animal tissue and human tissue have not been previously corroborated.
METHODS: We conducted ramp and relaxation tensile tests on fresh human and Thiel preserved hepatic tissue, extracting strain-specific elastic moduli, and viscoelastic properties. The results for fresh human liver were then compared to corresponding results for Thiel preserved liver, as well as previously published results for porcine and bovine liver.
RESULTS: Our results showed that Thiel preservation seems to be associated with increased stiffness as well as decreased viscoelastic damping behaviour. Porcine liver was stiffer than human liver with similar viscoelastic properties. Bovine liver exhibited similar stiffness as human liver, however lower viscoelastic damping.
CONCLUSIONS: The differences between human and animal liver tissue, concerning their mechanical properties, can be explained by their characteristic histology. Changes in mechanical properties due to Thiel preservation might stem from altered protein cross-linking and dehydration. The results illustrate that appropriate materials for medical training systems must be selected based on which mechanical properties are relevant for the respective application.