Plastination is an innovative method of conserving anatomical specimens, where all bodily fluids are exchanged with a polymer, which can be hardened. Plastination was invented by Dr Gunther von Hagens in 1977 and he and his team have further developed the process since then. Through this revolutionary Plastination process, the specimens are odorless, obtain no health risks and are permanently fixed with original characteristics.
The process of plastination.
When the necessary dissection is completed, the actual process of Plastination begins. In the first step, the water and soluble fats are dissolved from the body in a bath of acetone. Under freezing conditions, the acetone draws out all the water and replaces it inside the cells.
The third step is the central phase of the Plastination process, forced impregnation. Here specimen is placed in a bath of liquid polymer, such as silicone rubber, polyester or epoxy resin. By creating a vacuum, the acetone boils at a low temperature. As the acetone vaporizes and leaves the cells, it draws the liquid polymer in so that the polymer can penetrate every last cell. This process lasts 2-5 weeks.
After vacuum impregnation, the body is still flexible and can be positioned as desired. Every single anatomical structure is properly aligned and fixed with the help of wires, needles, clamps, and foam blocks. Positioning requires a lot of anatomical knowledge and a defined sense of aesthetics. This step can take weeks or even months.
In the final step, the specimen is hardened. Depending on the polymer used, this is done with gas, light, or heat. Curing protects the plastinate against decomposition and decay. Dissection and Plastination of an entire body requires about 1,500 working hours and normally takes about one year to complete.
Plastinates for New Opportunities
The pioneering specimen preservation method of Plastination has changed the way medical professionals, researchers and students engage with, and learn about, the human body. Plastinates allow a considered encounter and deep engagement with human biology and ... anatomy, with none of the disadvantages of traditional specimens.
Plastinates are dry, long-lasting, odorless, and non-hazardous. Their durability and characteristics allow for more hands-on instruction, leading to a more effective and efficient learning experience.
Plastinates also allow the viewing of natural variations as well as pathologies, as opposed to averaged anatomy seen in textbooks.
Our plastinates are used at universities all over the world, including the College of Dentistry at New York University, the University of Texas Health Center in Houston, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Singapore and the University of Warwick in England, to name a few. All of these institutions have either supplemented or completely replaced wet dissection with plastinates and have accomplished better results, and/or reported measurable success in the education of their students. This is especially true for smaller institutions.
The Benefits of Plastination
The Alternative to Artificial Models
The use of authentic human specimens presents an up-close look at human anatomy in a way that cannot be shown with three-dimensional models. When the physiochemical treatment is performed correctly, the microscopic cell structures maintain their original shape. Plastinates are accurate representations of preserved bodies illustrating all functional structures perfectly and are visually appealing.
The Alternative to Formalin Specimens and Wet Specimen Dissection
Traditionally, medical students familiarize themselves with the human body through a process of removal. First, they remove the skin from the cadaver. They then detach the muscles from the limbs and, finally, conclude by removing the chest and abdominal walls. After removing the organs, the remainder of the body is, to use the rather telling term, “dissected down” to the bones and ligaments.
In many countries, laws limit how much time someone should be exposed to formaldehyde fumes due to their carcinogenic effects. Many universities have to make substantial investments to bring their laboratories up to the legal standards. In addition to being non-toxic, plastinates can also help limit or completely exclude formaldehyde fume exposure by reducing the time spent dissecting and then studying wet specimens.
Plastinated specimens allow for precise preparation, planning, and compliance to a specific curriculum. Traditional wet dissection can lead to unanticipated surprises such as collapsed organs or unwanted appearances of diseases. Because plastinates guarantee visibly clear anatomical structures or specific abnormalities, teaching with them is very effective and results oriented.
Many universities maintain their own body donation programs. Such programs are time consuming and require considerable organization, care and appropriate administration. Due to rising costs, smaller universities may not be able to maintain wet specimen dissection programs or may need to severely limit them. Additionally, due to religious and cultural restrictions, institutions in some countries may not have any access to body donors. Aside from problems with availability, wet specimens are difficult to transport and can only be used and stored in specific, approved locations. Plastinates, however, can be used wherever needed and can easily be transferred between teaching locations.
Growing enrollment numbers, larger class sizes, and budget cuts have led to enormous economic pressure on many institutions. The use of plastinated specimens does not only improve the quality of education, it also has clear economic benefits. While many wet dissection programs require costly and regular maintenance, plastinates need almost nothing in terms of maintenance. Simple dusting and color touch-ups (occasionally needed after 5 years) are the extent of maintenance needed for plastinates. Due to their durability, plastinates can be reused year after year, and therefore typically recoup their costs after only a few semesters.
Quality and References
Our plastinates benefit from 40 years of continuous development and improvement of the Plastination technique. Anatomists, professionals and experts recognize and appreciate our detailed, high quality dissections. The precise and thorough practice of each step in the process, particularly, complete water and fat removal is important to ensure the durability of each specimen. Shrinking and color changes are avoided by precise methods used in our laboratory. At von Hagens Plastination we pay special attention to our processes, which have resulted in perfecting each of the steps in Plastination, to ensure the highest quality specimens.