Special interest

We need to talk about Kev-lar

Reading the newspaper this weekend, I was sad to learn that Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of Kevlar, died recently. Kevlar is best known for making body armour, but it’s also used in heat-protection gear, helicopter blades, bike tyres, ping pong bats, bowstrings, boat sails, tennis raquets, musical instruments, fire dancing props, frying pans, ropes, optical fibre cables, F1 racing cars, building construction, brake pads, rubber hoses, CERN particle physics experiments, wind and tidal turbines, and smartphones. Because it is such a ubiquitous product, I was surprised that one person was responsible for its invention, and that Kevlar has only been around since 1975.

We use Kevlar everyday; woven into gloves to protect our hands in post-mortems from over-enthusiastic scalpeling. (The idea of ‘bulletproof gloves’ is quite exciting when encountered for the first time, and therefore must always be accompanied with the disclaimer: “These gloves are glance-proof not stab-proof. They are designed for glancing blows ONLY. Please DO NOT stab yourself in the hand as an experiment.” Nevertheless, there’s always one…). You wouldn’t think Kevlar gloves would be so necessary (after all, how difficult is it to keep track of a blade?) but there are always a disconcertingly large number of slices out of the latex over-gloves by the end of a PM.


So to Stephanie Kwolek, with our unscarred hands we salute you.

Special interest


A day in the life of a Veterinary Forensic Pathologist!

Everything I think of is already a thing


Exactly what Veterinary Forensic Pathology is like.

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What's this?

What’s this? #8 Spondylosis

What was going on in that strange spine? It’s likely that this poor polar bear had spondylosis (also called spondylosis deformans or ankylosing spondylosis).

He's not letting it ruin his day, though

He’s not letting it ruin his day, though

Spondylosis is the formation of extra bone (osteophytes) between the vertebral bones which make up the spine.  It can look like little projections from the individual vertebrae, or actually form bridges between them.  When joints fuse like this, it is called ankylosis, and is thought to be the body attempting to stabilise the joint (like a bone splint) after damage to the cartilage cushions between the vertebrae.


Projections of bone vs. bridges of bone

Spondylosis is most often seen in dogs, pigs and bulls.  It is particularly important in bulls kept in artificial breeding centres, where repeated mounting of a dummy-cow leads to damage to the lower back.

Your back bone's connected to...uh, all your other back bones (is that how the song goes?)

Your back bone’s connected to…uh, all your other back bones (is that how the song goes?)

In some animals with spondylosis there are no symptoms. However, the bony bridges are more brittle than regular bone, and can sometimes fracture, potentially leading to bleeding and compression of the spinal cord and paralysis.  In most dogs and pigs, spondylosis is often found incidentally and clinical signs can range from nothing to pain and stiffness.

Extra bone around the vertebra. The spinal cord runs through the tunnel at the top of the bone.

Extra bone around the vertebra. The spinal cord runs through the tunnel at the top of the bone (which has been sawn open in this picture).

Foodie Friday

Foodie Friday: Beefy Buns

It’s apparently football season, and McDonalds is getting into the spirit. But you know what they say; “one man’s football is another man’s offal”. Don’t you think this burger bun looks a little familiar?

foodie friday kidney

cow kidney vs. burger bun

Maybe they should’ve called it The Renaldo Burger…

(Images from Reddit.com and Quizlet.com. Can you guess the bonus pathology in this Foodie Friday post? No cheating, or you’ll get a red card and other miscellaneous football puns)


Edit 16/06/2014: Biologist on the Edge clued us in; the unusual colour of this kidney is due to amyloid accumulation, making it look yellow and pale and about as appetising as a certain fast food restaurant…