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Bodies Exhibit

Not sure how many of you are aware of this touring
anatomical science exhibit – but it’s been making its rounds through major cities in the U.S. and Europe.  I finally went to see it this weekend in DC, and it was both amazing and slightly disappointing.

It was amazing because of the meticulous dissection work done by the Chinese scientists.  It was disappointing because, after months of viewing the awe-inspiring marketing photos of colorful cadavers playing soccer, football, conducting an orchestra, etc. I had some sort of unconscious expectation that there would be movement in the exhibit, or at least some medical animations and multi-media.  Instead, the exhibit was flat – nothing moved, no multi-media, and much of it was comprised of cadaver slices and organ sections.  The attractive, eye catching cadavers made up a very small portion of the exhibit.

Now, I wondered how these cadavers could be unscented (I was told beforehand that there was no odor problem – the way there was in anatomy lab in medical school), and as it turns out it’s because they are not cadavers at all.  No, the Bodies are actually plasticized fossils.  So the reason they don’t smell is the reason why dinosaur “bones” don’t smell – there are no bits of tissue left.

All that being said – I really have to tell you that seeing these meticulously dissected fossils made me realize how useless medical school anatomy lab really is.  A surgeon once told me that he found anatomy lab “a total waste of time” since the anatomy of living flesh bears little resemblance to the greasy beef jerky (sorry to be so graphic – but it’s true) we poke through for months on end at medical school.  These Bodies were incredibly beautiful – and I truly saw (and understood) for the first time the exact relationship of every nerve, muscle, tendon, artery and vein to the greater picture.  How I wished I could take one of the bodies home with me to study it!  Netter is great – but there’s nothing like 3-D to really understand the relationships.

So I can only hope that medical schools will seriously consider offering courses conducted on these beautifully dissected fossils, rather than the smelly, obese cadavers that we muck through today (no disrespect meant to the donors – they are kind to offer their bodies to science).  Anatomy is critically important in medicine – but I’m not convinced that the current educational system is set up for maximum impact.  Skip anatomy lab – spend some time at the Bodies Exhibit.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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