Dental students taking part in a workshop at the prestigious US university Yale took a selfie with two severed head they were using for medical research, an action that the university's officials said was "an egregious violation of Yale policy".

Students were taking part in a workshop with a University of Connecticut program director and visiting associate Yale School of Medicine professor, Dr Flavio Uribe.

The picture was obtained by the Associated Press through a person who received it in a group chat.

According to the AP, the photo shows Uribe and several graduate students looking at the camera wearing surgical masks while the two severed heads are face up on the table.

Uribe said: "Somebody unfortunately took a photo," adding. "[i]t was so quick. I wasn't sure of the surroundings or scenery at that point."

The University of Connecticut Health's chief communication's officer, Christopher Hyers, told the news agency that the school "took appropriate internal steps" but would not further comment. A spokesperson for Yale, Thomas Conroy, said that the heads were not donated to Yale, it was unclear where the heads were from.

"The photograph taken at a symposium at Yale was disturbing and an inexcusable deviation from anything Yale would expect to occur," Conroy said in a statement. "Yale is developing a centralised coordinating function to ensure adequate oversight is provided for use of anatomical parts in any training conducted at the school."

Conroy said that there were signs at labratory entrances telling people photography was forbidden. "The faculty member who was involved in the training at which the photograph was taken has been informed of Yale's expectations in this regard," he said.

An email responding to a complaint about the picture from Yale School of Medicine director of medical studies, Dr Lawrence Rizzolo, seen by the agency, said that it was "an egregious violation of Yale policy".