Superior Pathology

FFPE Human Tissue Samples: Everything You Need to Know

For decades, FFPE human tissue samples have enhanced research and enabled groundbreaking healthcare discoveries. If you’re new to the FFPE preservation process, you may be curious about this method of tissue conservation that modern scientists swear by. 

In this article, we explain what FFPE means and how FFPE tissue samples are used. We also share the differences between fresh frozen tissue and FFPE specimens. Keep reading to learn how FFPE human tissue can impact your important scientific studies!

What is FFPE Tissue, And How is it Acquired?

To keep collected specimens in pristine condition, they must undergo the FFPE preservation process. FFPE stands for Formalin-Fixed Paraffin-Embedded tissue. What exactly does that mean? FFPE is a form of preservation for biospecimens, involving fixing them in formalin and embedding each sample in paraffin wax to keep the cells intact. FFPE tissue samples enhance scientific research and diagnostic development. Let’s take a look at what tissue samples undergo during the FFPE preservation process. 

Before starting the FFPE process, tissue blocks need to be collected from a donor. The accumulated specimens can be sourced from donors with both diseased and normal tissue. After excision, the tissue samples are fixed in a solution of 10% neutral-buffered formalin, stopping any biological or cellular activity in the specimen. Formalin conjoins proteins within the tissue to form chemical bonds resulting in stable protein structures that aren’t able to perform their biological functions. At this point, the natural decay process of tissue is halted altogether. After 18–24 hours, the samples are dehydrated using ethanol to eliminate any water that may disrupt the preservation effect of the paraffin wax. The specimen is then embedded in paraffin wax ensuring the tissue can easily be cut into slices of differing sizes to mount on a microscopic slide for analysis or testing. 

Once tissue samples are preserved, they’re stored in large biorepositories, hospitals, or research centers. Biorepositories usually keep records on each specimen such as when the tissue was collected and preserved and the donor’s demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, stage of diseased tissue, etc). It’s also necessary for those collecting the biospecimens to hold onto the signed consent forms from the donor and any other legal documents that could impact whether the use of FFPE tissue is permitted or not.

How FFPE Human Tissue Samples Are Used

FFPE samples are a staple for modern research. The mainstream use of FFPE human tissue is for a scientific application called immunohistochemistry (IHC). IHC is one of the most common types of immunostaining. During the immunostaining process, tissue sections are mounted on a slide and soaked in a solution containing antibodies that bind to particular structures or proteins. IHC stains aid in visualizing antibodies which, in turn, reveal what antigens are present in the tissue sample. 

Information collected during IHC is commonly used to diagnose cancer, predict treatment response, and diagnose other medical conditions. For example, a healthcare provider may remove part of a tumor and send it to a commercial laboratory to test for cancer cells. Once received, a pathologist may use IHC techniques to study the tissue sample and determine the outcome. Other applications of FFPE human tissue include the following:

  • Hematology: Researchers often use FFPE tissue samples to study blood-related disorders. Hematology is a vital field of research that’s led to the discovery of numerous cures for diseases caused by abnormalities in the blood. The study of hematology also applies to tissue regeneration, genetics, and toxicology.
  • Immunology: This area of analysis concerns the response of the immune system in both normal and diseased states. Examining FFPE specimens from an individual with an autoimmune disease can help researchers recognize how and why the disease started. Immunology also contributes to the development of treatment or therapy for those with an autoimmune disease. 
  • Comparative: Comparative research involves FFPE tissue samples collected from 100% healthy donors to differentiate varying types of biospecimens. In addition to using disease tissue for analysis, healthy samples can also be used for a variety of research and development purposes. This approach expands research beyond primarily the study of disease and enables a larger understanding of human biology.

FFPE tissue samples have become a favorite for researchers and laboratories worldwide. However, this isn’t the only preservation technique out there. Fresh frozen specimens are also trusted by scientific researchers around the globe. Let’s take a look at the main differences between these protective measures.

FFPE vs Fresh Frozen Tissue

Compared to fresh frozen biospecimens, FFPE samples have numerous advantages including decreased cost, easier storage, increased availability, and multiple-use scenarios for scientific purposes. Below are 3 reasons to consider FFPE tissue samples over fresh frozen biospecimens:

Biobanks collect biospecimens through various methods. Samples of blood, saliva, or tissue can be left over following lab tests, surgeries, and other health appointments. With consent from the patient to donate, these samples can then be sent to a biobank. For example, if a patient sees a doctor and a blood or tissue specimen is taken, part of that sample can be set aside for a biobank. Donating samples to a biobank is 100% voluntary, and people who participate are asked to sign a consent form upon contribution. Biobanking is also fully confidential, and donors’ personal information will stay private throughout the entire process.

  1. It’s typically easier and more cost-effective to store FFPE samples. When storing fresh frozen specimens, you’ll need an expensive freezer that requires consistent maintenance and massive amounts of energy. On the other hand, FFPE tissue can be kept at ambient room temperatures making it more simple and manageable to store them over time. 
  2. FFPE tissue samples are more durable than fresh frozen specimens. While FFPE samples don’t need to be refrigerated to stay in pristine condition, frozen tissue quickly deteriorates in room-temperature environments. Bear in mind that, if you’re looking for specimens that are made to last, FFPE preservation methods are the way to go.
  3. A single FFPE specimen can be used multiple times for various studies. If the tissue samples require immunostaining and morphological analysis, using FFPE specimens is preferred since an individual sample can withstand being used for numerous tests.

Although FFPE tissue samples have the upper hand in some ways, it’s important to keep in mind that certain research requires the use of fresh frozen specimens. For example, if you need to study native morphology or examine cell decay, you’ll need to invest in frozen tissue samples. Fresh frozen specimens are also commonly used to analyze DNA, RNA, and native proteins while FFPE samples may not be suitable for these purposes. When deciding between FFPE or frozen samples, take into account what your research requires and which method will best suit your needs.


Order FFPE Human Tissue Samples from Superior BioDiagnostics

If you’d like to experiment with FFPE human tissue samples, Superior BioDiagnostics is the biobank for you. With thousands of specimens collected from a variety of anatomical sites, our biorepository has what you need to further your research. We ship malignant, normal, and disease-state human tissue samples to commercial laboratories, pharmaceutical developers, leading researchers, and more. 

When you order from Superior BioDiagnostics, our team can include data on the sample’s tumor type (if applicable), TNM stage or histologic grade, and donor demographics. Don’t wait to experience how our high-quality FFPE tissue samples can catalyze your scientific research. Contact us to obtain the FFPE specimens you need to achieve your research goals.