The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

Plastinated Prosections

Plastinated Human in Cross-Cut Segments

Vertical cross-cut of plastinated human.

In 1977, German anatomist Gunther von Hagens invented the plastination technique, which preserves the human body by replacing fat and water with acetone. This creates a dry and durable cadaver. Initially only able to preserve small specimens and limbs, von Hagens was able to preserve whole bodies by the early 1990s.

Plastinated prosections provide medical schools with a less expensive tool for teaching anatomy. Dry specimens can be used more than once, unlike wet cadavers. Students experience with plastinated cadavers has been positive.  This type of cadaver allows students to visualize complex details of human anatomy without investing in the time it takes to dissect a wet cadaver.

Studies support the level of retention plastinated prosections provide students. Students noted that learning from human specimens makes a greater impact than passive learning from textbooks and lectures. A 2010 study by Hoffman et al. showed that students who learned only from dissecting plastinated specimens tested just as well as students who dissected only wet specimens.

Plastination provides a cost effective form of dissection that is more traditional than digital surrogates. Medical faculty have noted positive outcomes using plastinated specimens in the classroom at an early stage in medical education.  Plastinated specimens allow students to become comfortable around anatomy without the trauma sometimes experienced in cadaveric dissection.