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Proof of principle study: synchrotron X-ray fluorescence microscopy for identification of previously radioactive microparticles and elemental mapping of FFPE tissues

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Scientific Reports
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Biobanks containing formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues from animals and human atomic-bomb survivors exposed to radioactive particulates remain a vital resource for understanding the molecular effects of radiation exposure. These samples are often decades old and prepared using harsh fixation processes which limit sample imaging options. Optical imaging of hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) stained tissues may be the only feasible processing option, however, H&E images provide no information about radioactive microparticles or radioactive history. Synchrotron X-ray fluorescence microscopy (XFM) is a robust, non-destructive, semi-quantitative technique for elemental mapping and identifying candidate chemical element biomarkers in FFPE tissues. Still, XFM has never been used to uncover distribution of formerly radioactive micro-particulates in FFPE canine specimens collected more than 30 years ago. In this work, we demonstrate the first use of low-, medium-, and high-resolution XFM to generate 2D elemental maps of ~ 35-year-old, canine FFPE lung and lymph node specimens stored in the Northwestern University Radiobiology Archive documenting distribution of formerly radioactive micro-particulates. Additionally, we use XFM to identify individual microparticles and detect daughter products of radioactive decay. The results of this proof-of-principle study support the use of XFM to map chemical element composition in historic FFPE specimens and conduct radioactive micro-particulate forensics.