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Plastination of Anatomical Materials

Plastination is a process of preserving organic material. Water and fat in tissue are replaced with silicone in a process which, for most specimens, takes about one month. Preserved tissue is first dissected and then dehydrated with acetone. It is immersed in a silicone bath under vacuum until the replacement of acetone is completed. After plastination, the resulting tissue is safe to handle (i.e., toxic fixatives are eliminated), the tissue has no odor and it is extremely durable. Thus, the anatomical specimens are safer to use, more pleasant to use, and are much more durable and have a much longer shelf life.

Plastinated specimens can be repeatedly handled by students without deterioration and specimens can be stored as would any inert object. The plastination facility has processed a number of specimens that are now routinely used to great benefit in teaching gross anatomy and neuroanatomy. In addition, because of the durability and safety of plastinated specimens, they may be utilized in a much broader range of educational settings. For example, specimens of normal lung and lung tissue from smokers and victims of smoking-related cancer have been used in a number of elementary, middle and high schools across the state to promote the prevention of smoking. The goal of the plastination facility is to enhance the teaching resources of the Office of Medical Education and to provide plastination services to other departments and institutions.

Overall, plastinated specimens have been enthusiastically received both by our faculty and students mainly because they present many distinct advantages over traditionally preserved specimens. These include:

1) Excellent quality and durability

2) A reduction in toxic, noxious fumes, and

3) Greater flexibility of use both inside and outside of the classroom, including their ability to interface with computer software

In addition plastinated specimens prepared to demonstrate difficult structures and dissection areas have proved to be excellent review and testing materials.

About Our Lab

The Plastination Laboratory services have been shut down effective July 2014.

A thorough description of plastination and the advantages of using plastinated specimens in teaching and research is available from the excellent review article in Anat. Embryol. 175:411-421, 1987.