About Plastination at CU Anschutz
What is Plastination?
Plastination is a tissue preservation process in which the water and lipids are replaced by plastics, such as silicone, epoxy, or polyester . Plastination allows specimens to be preserved and utilized for education because they can be handled, touched, and maneuvered without needing special ventilation or safety equipment. There are no harmful chemicals and no dangerous residues left on the specimens. Of course, one of the magnificent aspects about plastination is that the specimens retain their anatomical authenticity. Thus, they are dry and relatively durable, and they retain the contours, size, texture and shape of the natural tissue.
Why Use Plastinated Specimens?
Historically, medical schools across the country and around the world have maintained collections of human brains and other organs for the education of medical and graduate students. These collections often contain specimens of normal anatomy, unique anomalies or disease cases. Traditionally, these collections have been maintained in jars or buckets of formalin or other fixation/preservation cocktails that are toxic, volatile, and carcinogenic. The use of such tissues/organs can be a powerful education tool to fascinate and engage students. However, they have several limitations:
- They require a staff/faculty with PPE and respirator training for the preparation and washing of samples with water (to remove formalin) prior to teaching.
- Long-term storage of such collections requires extensive space and costs (buckets, formalin, PPE, etc.) in ventilated and flameproof rooms.
- Formalin fixed organs/tissues are not easily transportable to lecture halls, small group classrooms, clinical training rooms, or off campus educational outreach events.
- Finally, tissues preserved by formalin are fragile and must be handled delicately; overtime, they degrade.
Plastination is an excellent and safe alternative.
Does CU Anschutz Have Plastinated Specimens?
Yes! The Modern Human Anatomy Program, a Master's degree program within the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, has its own plastination library with numerous specimens dissected by our own graduate students. The dissected and fixed tissues are then sent to the University of Toledo for plastination.
Where do Your Specimens Come From?
These specimens are used for teaching anatomy and come from bodies donated to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus through the State Anatomical Board of Colorado. All bodies and tissues are accepted with gratitude and treated respectfully. Funding for plastination comes from many sources including: the MSMHA Program, the American Association of Anatomists (Outreach Grant), the Society for Neuroscience Chapter Grant, and the Maggie George Foundation.
Where Can I learn More About Plastination?
Use the following links/papers to acces more information about plastination.
Klaus, R. M., Royer, D. F. and Stabio, M. E. (2018), Use and perceptions of plastination among medical anatomy educators in the United States. Clin. Anat., 31: 282-292. doi:10.1002/ca.23025
Hlavac, R. J., Klaus, R. , Betts, K. , Smith, S. M. and Stabio, M. E. (2018), Novel dissection of the central nervous system to bridge gross anatomy and neuroscience for an integrated medical curriculum. American Association of Anatomists, 11: 185-195. doi:10.1002/ase.17
We have the following specimens available in our plastination library. Each of these items may be checked-out for educational purposes to promote anatomy education.
- Human Brain
- 1 with dura mater intact
and basilar artery aneurysm
- 1 without dura mater
- 1 coronally sectioned brain
- 1 sagittally sectioned brain
- 1 horizontally sectioned brain
- 1 hemisected brain
Visual System Pathway
Central Nervous System
- 1 with Dura Mater
- 1 without Dura Mater
- 1 human heart
- 1 cow heart
- 4 human hearts sectioned in parasternal long axis
- 4 human hearts sectioned in parasternal short axis
- 1 unsectioned
- 2 sagittal cuts
- 1 with ureter intact
- 1 healthy
- 1 with metastatic melanoma
Placenta with Vessels Injected
- Human Hemisected Pelvis (female)
We utilize an online reservation system called Lab Agenda to reserve and checkout specimens. All affiliates of the Modern Human Anatomy Program may checkout specimens and obtain access to our library. All other individuals or groups must contact Dr. Maureen Stabio (email@example.com) for a username and password in order to access the system and utilize the library.
MHA Students, Faculty, & Affiliates
If you are a member of the Modern Human Anatomy community (faculty/staff or current student), you are automatically assigned a username. If you do not know your username or were not assigned one, please contact Dr. Maureen Stabio (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you are a member of the Anschutz Medical Campus (faculty, student, staff), please email Dr. Maureen Stabio (email@example.com) for information about how you can use t specimens.
Forms and Documents
Before being given access to the the reservation system, all users must fill out and sign the agreement form. The form can be given to Dr. Stabio or scanned and emailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. See below for a brief user guide for this system.
MHA Guidelines for Use of Plastinated Tissue
These are real human brains and other organs preserved by plastination. Remember that the tissues have been donated by individuals who gave their body for your education. Thus, treat them with gentleness and respect.
These tissues are to be used for education and science outreach purposes only. Any violation of this may be reported to the director of the Modern Human Anatomy Program and may result in denial to use of the specimens in the future. Misuse may also result in reporting of misconduct to the Graduate School.
Specimens can be checked out by students and faculty of the Modern Human Anatomy Program and their collaborators by completing a reservation request in the reservation software (see link in the above section).
These donated tissues have been preserved by the method of plastination. In this process, the water and lipids in the tissue are replaced by polymers. The polymers are cured and hardened. As a result, the specimens are hard, dry, and inert.
BE GENTLE. Although the specimens are more durable than fresh tissue, they can wear down with use. The plastic can break if it is bent, poked, or dealt with harshly. Please be respectful and careful. When transporting specimens, use the storage boxes available by the MHA Program.
Report the condition of the tissues before and after use on the online reservation system.
Because the tissues are inert, safety gloves are not required; however, you may notice that some of the specimens are oily. This is due to the polymer oils from the plastination process. You may wear gloves to avoid getting this oil on your hands, however the oil is not harmful. Whether or not you use gloves, all students must wash their hands after handling a specimen(s).
Benefits and Uses of Plastinated Tissues
- Foster hands-on and active learning activities for medical and graduate students through the tactile experience and haptic feedback of holding and manipulating the specimens in the classroom.
- Enhance community outreach efforts as plastinated tissues can be easily transported to educational science outreach events on and off campus.
Provide resources for student research through Capstone Projects or Independent Study in Modern Human Anatomy Program.
Reduce the quantity of PPE equipment needed to continually store and refresh formalin-fixed samples (formalin, respirators, filters, annual medical evaluations, etc.) and eliminate exposure of formalin to any student using the tissues to learn/study.
- Save employee costs after the collection is procured, as plastinated tissues do not require washing and prepping before use, which can take several days of preparation and space by a staff person.
If you have questions about our plastination collection, please contact Dr. Maureen Stabio. You may visit our department on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in Building 500, Suite N5200.
*Please note that unauthorized visits to our plastination library are prohibited out of respect to our anatomical donors. Specific groups may request access to our collection by contacting Dr. Maureen Stabio.