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The optical and electron microscopic determination of pulmonary asbestos fibre concentration and its relation to the human pathological reaction
  1. T. Ashcroft,
  2. A. G. Heppleston1
  1. Department of Pathology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne


    The quantitative extraction of asbestos fibres from asbestotic lung by alkali digestion has been refined by maceration of the tissue without prior drying, the minimum use of centrifugation, and the adoption of phase contrast microscopy. Preliminary experiments suggested that, using this technique, asbestos fibre counts were accurate to within at least ± 20% and in most instances to within ± 10%.

    The method was used to assess asbestos concentrations in lung tissue showing various degrees and forms of fibrosis. The results, as determined by light microscopy, indicated that uncoated fibres generally outnumbered coated fibres. In mild and moderate asbestosis there was a progressive increase in concentration of asbestos fibres, both coated and uncoated, with increasing severity of fibrosis, whereas in severe asbestosis no correlation existed between the fibre concentration and the form or the extent of the pathological reaction. It is suggested that the severe fibrosis results from the supervention of non-specific inflammatory processes.

    Asbestos fibre diameter distributions, gauged by electron microscopy, were fairly constant irrespective of the degree of fibrosis. Optically visible fibres constituted between 12 and 30% of the total, so that an optical count may be said to give an approximate indication of the total asbestos concentration and, so far as asbestosis is concerned, may well serve for comparative purposes. The relation between asbestos and neoplasia will, however, require identification and quantitation of particular types of the mineral by microanalytical techniques.

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    • 1 Reprint requests: Professor A. G. Heppleston. Department of Pathology, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 4LP.