Teaching From Life

As a horse owner, have you ever wondered exactly what something looks like inside your animal? Have you considered what your veterinarian went through to learn? Veterinary and animal science students can tell you that it isn't always pleasant to take gross anatomy courses. Dissections and examinations of tissue are an integral part of learning. Now, thanks to researchers at Michigan State University, the study of organs and tissues has become easier, and less stressful on the senses and the specimens.

A new line of teaching models is being developed utilizing a unique silicone impregnation process to preserve an organ or body part in its entirety while maintaining flexibility. This means a professor can pass an actual placenta around the classroom that is preserved, touchable, and flexible, and doesn't disintegrate over a short time.

"Instead of keeping anatomical teaching models in formaldehyde, we can make specimens so they can be permanently preserved," said Peter J. Ocello, BS, MS, the inventor of the process and the Director of the Laboratory for Preservation and Research Education in the Department of Veterinary Pathology at MSU. The process utilized in Ocello's lab is called silyophilization, which combines the activity of silicone impregnation and lyophilization, a technical term for freeze-drying.

Ocello's list of completed models includes everything from entire animals to reproductive tracts, to airway models--actual lungs or casts made of the airway channels. He even has such rare samples as a cyclopian (one-eyed) foal head preserved from a stillbirth.

"We prepare many anatomical models of equine joints for farriers--they send in unique cases that they have harvested, and we turn them into teaching models," said Ocello.

Pharmaceutical companies are using these models to educate veterinarians in the field on injection of products (i.e., joint models), and vets are using the models to educate their clientele. Two models were completed for the Smithsonian Institution's collection.

The length of time it takes to preserve a specimen depends on how much tissue or bone is present. A heart can be completely preserved in a week or two.

Ocello and his laboratory are working to expand their technology and are providing educators, private practitioners, corporate affiliates, and researchers with a vast array of models.

"To date, we've done full dogs, full cats, and sheep. We've just finished a very unique project--the whole vertebral column of a small pony using this silyophilization technology," he said. This will be used by a chiropractic veterinarian to educate clients about motion and flexibility in the horse as an athlete

For more information you can contact ocello@cvm.msu.edu, or visit www.cvm.msu.edu/pare    

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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