Tucked away on the third floor of the Medical Science II building sits a supply of painted skulls and silicone-hardened lungs.
The Plastination Lab, which houses bodies preserved in plastic, features shelves full of plastinated body parts and gurneys covered with white sheets poking out of different rooms.
Plastination is the preservation process by which water and fat are replaced by certain types of plastics.
Ameed Raoof, the lab’s director, said the lab gives medical and dental students the chance to learn how to perform various procedures before operating on a live human being.
“It provides plastinated human anatomical specimens to facilitate anatomical teaching to medical, dental, undergrads and residents,” he said.
The lab receives about 10 to 20 donated bodies per year, Raoof said. Once the body is plastinated, it is preserved permanently, though donor families can request the body to be returned.
The plastination process can take as little as two weeks for only one organ, but it can take up to six weeks to plastinate an entire body.
To start the plastination process, the body is first immersed in acetone and then water is removed from the body, Raoof said.
The body is then placed in a silicone tank, which also serves as a vacuum chamber. The acetone bubbles out as a result of a pressure change and the silicone is absorbed.
The tissue is then removed and replaced with a catalyst, which in turn, hardens the organs.
The lab was created and functions solely for educational purposes.
“The three-dimensional aspect makes anatomy much easier to learn,” Raoof said.
University and high school students are welcome to come to the lab, but Raoof said he recommends they make an appointment first.
The lab is staffed by two faculty members as well as 10 to 15 medical, dental and undergraduate students who help dissect, prepare specimens and conduct research, he said.