About Plastination

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. 

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, the Society for Neuroscience Chapter Grant, the CU Anschutz OER Creation Grant, and the Maggie George Foundation. 

Where can I learn more about plastination?
Use the following links/papers to access more information about plastination:

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