Scientist develops modern form of mummification

BALTIMORE, MD (CNN) - A scientist responsible for providing cadaver donors for surgical training has developed a modern form of mummification.

Ronn Wade, director of the University of Maryland School of Medicine's anatomical services division, said that his experiments first started 16 years ago, when he mummified a human donor using the exact techniques practiced by ancient Egyptians.

"It's ongoing research," he said. "We still take cultures and biopsies from the mummy."

Since that time, Wade has worked on a more modern technique of body preservation called plastination. He preserves donor bodies with polymers that replace the water and fat inside a body's organ tissues. Three-dimensional sections of the body, which can be held, cross-sectioned, and even dissected to use as teaching tools, are then created.

This process differs greatly from more ancient of mummification.

When Wade arrived at Maryland in 1974, the university owned a collection of medical mummies known as the Burns Collection.  Assembled in the early 1800s in Scotland as illegal teaching tools, the mummies were eventually brought to the U.S.

"They were embalmed, as we know embalming with fluid," Wade said. "And then they were salt and sugared cured to be preserved."

Wade said he's always been fascinated with human anatomy, especially with the ancient process of mummification. He said mummies tell us a lot about the human body, because they were exposed to many of the things we are today, such as bacteria and disease.

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