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A novel cadaveric embalming technique for enhancing visualisation of human anatomy

Lookup NU author(s): Brian Thompson, Emily Green, Kayleigh ScotcherORCiD, Dr Emma Saunders, Dr Iain KeenanORCiD


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The use of human cadavers for dissection- and prosection-based anatomical learning activities is typically described as the ‘gold standard’ resource for supporting student understanding of anatomy. A combination of historical and pedagogic factors underpins the traditional status of cadaveric approaches as the teaching methods against which alternative learning modalities and resources in anatomical education are judged. To prepare and preserve human cadaveric tissues for teaching purposes, donor bodies are embalmed with fixative agents. Embalmed cadavers can then be dissected by students or can be prosected or plastinated to produce anatomy teaching resources. We have explored the history of cadaveric preservation in anatomy education while considering the practical strengths and limitations of current embalming approaches for the preparation of human bodies. Furthermore, we have investigated the pedagogic benefits of a range of established modern embalming techniques. We have also addressed a variety of relevant cadaveric attributes and their impacts on learning, such as the importance of colour, texture, smell and joint mobility. Moreover, we have identified emotional and humanistic elements of the use of human donors in anatomy education and the relative presence and impact of all these factors when different embalming techniques are utilised. Based on a rationale supported by our investigations, we present a technical description of our modern Newcastle-WhitWell embalming process, which involves the use of Dodge reagents. By sharing our procedure and protocol, we aim to inform anatomy educators and technical staff seeking to embalm human donors rapidly, safely and at reduced costs while enhancing both visual and haptic tissue characteristics. We propose that our Newcastle-Whitwell approach has logistical and pedagogic implications both for the ongoing development of embalming techniques and for the student visualisation and learning. In our future work, we plan to investigate the nature and extent of such elements by comparing student perceptions of cadavers preserved using the Newcastle-Whitwell technique with those embalmed with traditional formaldehyde-based methods. The use of human cadaveric material for teaching and research at Newcastle University is licensed by the Human Tissue Authority. Institutional ethical approval was not required for this work.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Thompson B, Green E, Scotcher K, Saunders E, Keenan I

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Anatomical Society Summer Meeting Glasgow 2021: Cutting Edge Anatomy

Year of Conference: 2021

Pages: 792-792

Print publication date: 01/04/2022

Online publication date: 24/11/2021

Acceptance date: 24/11/2021

ISSN: 0021-8782

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/joa.13592

Series Title: Journal of Anatomy