Dissection for a good cause

Although the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Chulalongkorn University has developed a new embalming fluid to make studying animal remains easy, it requires more donations of cadavers from the public

Asst Prof Srireepong Kiertkrittikhoon, head of the Surgery Department and director of the Small Animal Hospital, Chulalongkorn University.

Animal cadavers are necessary for veterinary students, especially in surgical training. Formalin is normally used to preserve animal cadavers, however, it can cause stiffness in the joints and tissues and its odour irritates the eyes and nose, which can distract veterinary students from their practice.

To resolve these problems, lecturers at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University have developed an embalming fluid for surgical practice and anatomical study.

Asst Prof Srireepong Kiertkrittikhoon, head of the Surgery Department and the director of Small Animal Hospital, Chulalongkorn University, said the new embalming fluid can preserve canine and feline cadavers without stiffness.

"It is difficult for surgeons to work with stiff joints and tissues caused by formalin. The new embalming fluid solves this problem since it can maintain flexible joints and soft muscles of the cadavers. The organs and tissues also retain the same colour as when the animals were alive. If cadavers are left in this new embalming fluid, they can be stored for many years. Once the cadavers are taken out of storage, they can be used for four to eight months for surgical training purposes. This makes the donated bodies more valuable and a longer-lasting contribution," said Srireepong.

The new embalming fluid was developed from several environmentally friendly substances such as food preservatives, cosmetic preservatives, sterilising solution, washing detergent and moisture stabiliser.

Asst Prof Sirakarnt Dhitavat, one of the developers of the new embalming fluid at the Biochemistry Unit at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University.

"It took us four years to discover this new formula. We let both lecturers and students evaluate our formula and used their feedback to improve the solution. The previous formula was criticised for causing stiffness and giving off a strong odour that caused users to experience skin allergy," explained Srireepong.

This achievement by the Faculty of Veterinary Science team was largely due to strong support from management.

"Some chemical substances are expensive and we did not have the budget to purchase them. However, formalin can be stored at room temperature but the new embalming fluid needs to be stored below zero degrees Celsius. We had to ask for financial support from the executives and they approved the budget for us. Hence, we were able to purchase the substances and keep them in temperature-controlled storage," he said.

The new embalming fluid.

Even though the embalming fluid is effective for dog and cat cadavers, it still needs further development.

"We are looking for substances that can also kill bacteria in order to slow down decomposition. When we use this embalming fluid with fish, the colour of the scales fade. We want to develop other formulas which will be suitable for animals that have different fur and skin types such as birds, snakes and fish," he said.

In 2018, a lecturer at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chula, created paper models of canine's heads so veterinary students could see important parts inside a dog's head more clearly.

Pet owners who want to donate their pet's remains should contact the Animal Cadaver Donation Center. facebook.com/CUSCDVET

"The model received great feedback from students and has been further developed by adding lights to each organ part so that everything can be seen clearly," he said.

Even though a dog model can be used for veterinary teaching, animal cadavers are still needed. Most animal cadavers come from donations and donors can contact Animal Cadaver Donation Center for details about the process. Srireepong said each year, 150 to 180 cadavers are used for veterinary education at Chula but only 100 to 120 cadavers are donated. Most cadavers are from dogs and cats which died at the Small Animal Hospital in Chula. A veterinarian will inform the pet owner about donations and some owners agree to donate cadavers to the hospital.

"Cadavers that are donated must have an owner and the cause of death must be known. They must not have a disease that can be transferred to humans, especially, rabies which we really have to beware of. The cadavers must also not have cancer or tumours that have affected the animal's original organs and tissues. If a pet owner wants to donate a cadaver of his/her pet, the owner should contact Animal Cadaver Donation Center and put the body in ice and deliver it in 24 hours. If the deceased is left longer than 24 hours, some organs, especially in the digestive system, will decay and cannot be used," said Srireepong.

Veterinary students need animal cadavers for surgical training. www.chula.ac.th

In addition to dog and cat cadavers, the Faculty of Veterinary Science also needs other animal bodies.

"Veterinarians need to study the anatomy of other animals such as reptiles like turtles, snakes, squirrels, mice and rabbits so that we will know how to treat them. In a university, veterinary students do get exposed to all animal species for surgical training. If a cadaver of these animals is donated, a veterinarian can study its anatomy in order to be able to treat or operate on a live species that requires treatment. These animals must have an owner and we must know how they died. We must ensure that there is no disease that they can pass on to humans," said Srireepong.

The Animal Cadaver Donation Center is located at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Chulalongkorn University. Visit facebook.com/CUSCDVET or call 095-851-7807 (from 8am to 4pm) or Emergency Department (24 hours) 02-218-9752.

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