The Anatomy Specimen Collection of Albert Gellért: A Unique Paraffin Wax Method of Body Preservation

Case Report

Austin J Anat. 2014;1(3): 1013.

The Anatomy Specimen Collection of Albert Gellért: A Unique Paraffin Wax Method of Body Preservation

Mihály A*, Weiczner R, Sle Z and Czigner A

Department of Anatomy, University of Szeged, Hungary

*Corresponding author: Mihály A, Department of Anatomy, University of Szeged, H-6724 Szeged, Kossuth L. sgt. 40, Hungary.

Received:June 03,2014; Accepted: August 08, 2014; Published: August 12, 2014

Human gross anatomy is based on cadaver dissection. Cadavers must be conserved before dissection [1]. Embalming methods are numerous and used in anatomy teaching and research [2,3]. However, most of the fluid embalmed specimens require special storage conditions, therefore long-term storage of these specimens is relatively expensive. We have several methods for long-term preservation which include fluid embalming [3] and the embedding of the tissue into solidifying-polymerizing media [4]. These embedding methods result in compact and durable specimens which can be arranged in collections and contribute to medical databases. One of these popular preservation methods is plastination [4].

Another method of manufacturing durable anatomical specimens was the waxwork modeling: cadaver preparations were used for moulding their structures and the moulds were filled with wax. The wax models were stained and polished [5]. The beautiful and demonstrative specimens were made by skilled anatomists and artists and the specimens were arranged in anatomical museums [5]. Most outstanding collections were made in Italy [5] and Austria [6].

Here we describe a more than 70 years old method, invented by professor Albert Gellért [7]. Gellért used paraffin wax but not for moulding, rather for infiltration and conservation of the body. This method was applied to dissected preparations of whole bodies, limbs, visceral organs and brain [7-9]. The cadavers were carefully prepared and then embedded into paraffin, similarly to tissue blocks in routine histology. The specimens were systematically arranged into a collection, which is now known as the, Albert Gellért Anatomical Collection” in the Department of Anatomy, University of Szeged, Hungary [10]. The original method was based on the following steps:

  1. Cadavers and organs were fixed in 4% aqueous formalin by means of intravascular perfusion and immersion. The intravascular perfusion was performed through the common carotid- and/or femoral arteries, similarly to other embalming procedures. The time of the immersion fixation depended on the size and weight of the cadaver, or body part; varied from 5 days to 5 weeks. In case of blood vessel preparation, the vessels were filled with celluloid dissolved in acetone before the fixation.
  2. The cadaver was cut into pieces according to the dissection aim, and dissected lege artis. The dissections aimed to demonstrate the anatomy and topography of muscles, nerves and blood vessels of the body part or organ. Following dissection, a further immersion fixation step followed in freshly prepared 4% aqueous formalin, for 1-2 weeks.
  3. The dissected piece was dehydrated in ascending ethanol series (50% I-70%-96%). The 96% ethanol contained 5% phenol. The time of the dehydration depended on the size of the organ (varied from 3 days to 3 weeks), and the ethanol concentration was controlled several times; if it was necessary, the solution was changed.In case of large specimens (e.g. lower limb) the infiltration was facilitated through injecting the chemical into the deep tissues (e.g: muscles).
  4. Infiltration with mixture of 96% ethanol, phenol and benzine (mixture of alkanes: pentane, hexane, heptane; cleaning benzine).
  5. Infiltration with pure benzine, twice changed.
  6. Infiltration with low melting point paraffin (at 36-48°C).
  7. Infiltration with high melting point paraffin (at 56°C).
  8. Dropping off the surplus paraffin at 56°C.
  9. Hardening of the preparations at room temperature.
  10. Organs with smooth surface (e.g: stomach, kidney, liver) are finished after hardening. Muscle surfaces were smoothed with a hot iron.
  11. Painting the muscles, nerves, blood vessels and covering the specimen with varnish.
  12. Many specimens were mounted on wooden and metal supports, for easy handling and display on museum racks.

The fixation and infiltration procedures were done on room temperature [7,8,9]. Instead of benzine, benzene (benzol) was tried, too [8]. In the case of the brain, turpentine was also used in some specimens instead of benzine [9]. Paraffin infiltration of large specimens required a special vacuum thermostat [8]. The thermostat controlled the temperature, the vacuum inside, and reduced the time of the paraffin infiltration [8]. The thermostat was built by local craftsman. Due to the prolonged dehydration the volume of the bodies decreased [8]. The benzine-paraffin infiltration caused further shrinkage [8]. The shrinkage during the entire procedure is larger than that occurring during plastination (Table1 & 2). This difference was probably due to the fact, that infiltrations during plastination happen at low temperatures [4], whilst infiltrations during paraffin embedding were done on room- and higher temperatures [8,9]. This temperature dependence of the shrinkage was clearly demonstrated in brain plastination by Sora et al. [11], in case of heart, kidney, liver and testis plastination by Brown et al. [12].