Plastinated brains are an art for UT professor

April 20, 2011 | Features, UToday
By Samantha Pixler

Dr. Carlos Baptista holds a plastinated brain.

Dr. Carlos Baptista holds a plastinated brain.

The human brain is a complex organ and serves as the primary control center for the human body. To add to the various functions and purposes of the organ, the brain can be used as an art form as well as an educational tool.

At The University of Toledo Plastination Laboratory, Dr. Carlos Baptista, associate professor of neurosciences and president of the International Society for Plastination, can be seen preserving brains and other organs with plastic, a process called plastination.

“The plastination of organs is a somewhat simple process but it is very time-consuming,” Baptista said. “I like to think of plastination as an art and a science. When I look at a specimen and the techniques that I am using, I know exactly what I want the finished product to look like.”

Plastination is the process of preserving and demonstrating anatomical specimens to retain most of their natural features using a plastic resin. The process was developed in 1977 by Dr. Gunther von Hagens at the University of Heidelberg. Plastinated organs are used to view the specimens in their natural forms for medical study.

Currently, Baptista’s plastinated brains can be seen at two prestigious museums. The most recent display of his work is at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where a showcase contains two brains, one normal and one affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The two brains are on loan to the museum for the duration of the exhibit titled “Brain: The Inside Story.”

The other brain that Baptista plastinated has been on display since 1992 in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It is in a permanent exhibit called “Imaging: The Tools of Science” that shows a cross-sectioned brain next to corresponding CAT scan images. The exhibit won a distinguished award in 1993 from the American Association of Museums.

“I am very honored for the opportunity to present my work, not only for me, but for the Department of Neurosciences and the College of Medicine at UT,” Baptista said.

Originally from Brazil, Baptista joined the former Medical College of Ohio in 1987, the same year the Plastination Laboratory was founded as a multidisciplinary effort by the departments of Anatomy, Pathology, Radiology and Dentistry. Baptista is the director of the Plastination Laboratory.

The process of plastination takes an abundance of time. To plastinate one brain, Baptista said takes anywhere from two to four months. The process begins by removing all of the water from the tissue. This process, called dehydration, takes four weeks. The brain is then soaked in acetone for four weeks until it is ready for the forced impregnation, which vacuums out the acetone and injects a polymer into the tissue. The final part of the process is curing, in which the brain is hardened by a chemical that reacts with the silicone.

Baptista said the scientific exploration and educational value provided by the brains in New York and Chicago would not be possible without the generosity of donors who give their bodies to science through the University’s Anatomical Donation Program.

“More than 1,500 students learn about health and disease each semester at UT. They learn from the donated bodies, fulfilling the desires of the donors to educate the health-care students and the general population,” he said.

UT will host the 2011 10th International Interim Meeting for Plastination in July. There will be a mini-exhibit open to the public displaying plastinated specimens from many laboratories around the world and a workshop during the meeting, which is scheduled for July 9-12.

For more information, contact Baptista at or click here.

Click to access the login or register cheese