Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Kenneth E. Ferslew

Committee Members

W. Scott Champney, Reza Mohseni, Donald B. Hoover, Gregory A. Ordway


Alcohol is the most abused drug in the United States and most frequently performed assay in forensic laboratories. Alcohol is routinely present in biological specimens from fatal residential fires and forensic toxicologists must interpret if these individuals are impaired by determination of their blood alcohol concentrations on post-incineration blood collected at autopsy. There is no known data available to confirm or refute blood alcohol concentrations and impairment in fire-related deaths. Ethyl glucuronide (EtG), a non-volatile minor ethanol metabolite, may provide a better biomarker for ethanol consumption prior to burn injury. The literature does not address the possibility that ethanol or EtG concentrations are altered in fire deaths.

A Sprague Dawley rat model was employed to determine if ethanol and EtG concentrations in blood, liver, heart, and kidney were altered after burn injuries using two incineration models with varying durations and temperatures. Blood and tissues were analyzed for ethanol by gas chromatography and EtG by enzyme immunoassay. Other measurements including organ weights, lower hindquarter weights, and blood glucose concentrations were chosen for analysis to determine the mechanism by which the blood and organ ethanol and EtG concentrations are altered in burnt corpses.

The rodent provided an excellent model for studying the biotransformation of ethanol to EtG and the effects of burn injury on ethanol and EtG concentrations. Our study revealed that blood ethanol concentrations were not significantly altered by burn injury but tissue ethanol concentrations were altered by burn injury. EtG concentrations were found to be altered in blood and tissue specimens in both incineration models. Our data suggest that the change in ethanol and EtG concentrations may be correlated to higher core body temperatures from burn injury and not changes in organ weight. Determining if blood ethanol concentrations are altered in burnt corpses is important for forensic toxicologists to conclude if victims were impaired at the time of death. The knowledge gained from these experiments will help forensic toxicologists by confirming the current interpretation that blood ethanol concentrations are not altered in fire deaths and provide a better understanding for the interpretation of impairment in burn deaths.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.