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M. P. Ravindra Nathan
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC, FACP

Perhaps, you have seen the American 3 B Scientific catalogue of life-like anatomic models of human body and all its complex organs with their motto on the front cover, “Educating today’s patients and tomorrow’s doctors?” Or those nice instructional plastic models of human organs in your doctors’ office. But none comes close to the real stuff, now on exhibition in MOSI ((Museum of Science & Industry, Tampa).

Skeletal muscles of a runner. Photos courtesy of Shani Jefferson, MOSI
A display of real human bodies, some sitting, others standing or in a sprinting pose with clearly demarcated individual muscles. Some carrying babies in their wombs. Others with organs all laid out. At first, you would think this is a bit “gross.” But on a closer inspection of these ‘plastinized’ cadavers, one would realize this is one of the most fascinating medical shows, combining aesthetic excellence, technical innovation and anatomic details.

“Have you seen the ‘Bodies’ exhibition at MOSI? Truly fantastic. I wish I had seen this when I was a medical student,” said one of my colleagues. That, along with so many other positive comments, some from my own patients, prompted me to go to MOSI one Sunday evening, to see it for myself.

Did you ever stop and wonder what is underneath your skin? How many different types of organs you have in your body? And how they all work in perfect symphony to give you that life-sustaining energy? Well, this is your opportunity to learn more about yourself.

The exhibit which is being shown in different cities in USA, is all about us. The specimens are real human bodies that had gone through a process called polymer preservation by a technique called plastination. The steps involved include “first replacing the body fluids with acetone, which is then replaced by silicone polymer. This creates a preserved human specimen – individual parts or the whole human body – which do not change any of its structure, allowing you to experience an amazing connection to your own body.” It was Gunther von Hagens, a physician from Germany, who developed this technique (

Smoker's Lungs. Photos courtesy of Shani Jefferson, MOSI

When the first exhibits opened in Germany, it was met with stiff opposition from the authorities; the idea of exhibiting dead, naked bodies was quite repulsive to many. But the amazing display of actual human body parts in various poses and motions, providing a unique opportunity to understand one’s own body, was simply irresistible to the rest. In Tampa too, the powerful State Board of Anatomy tried to block it in vain.

“Oh, we have had probably more than 10, 000 people go through these doors, since the show opened (a month ago),” the marketing manager told me as I was waiting in line to get in. By the comments in the visitors’ books, it was clear this show has been a great success.

As you walk into the exhibit halls, you are greeted by a skeleton, the framework for our internal structure which resists the pull of gravity and protects most of the internal organs. Next in line were a few specimens of such bone diseases like cancer, TB of the vertebra etc. The dynamic, running pose of a ‘man in flight,’ with muscles flying from the arm and legs, and another one stretching his leg muscles to kick a soccer ball, show the body’s remarkable agility, balance and control, achieved by muscle groups working together. We have more than 600 muscles in our body which wrap nearly every square inch of the body.

Dissected specimens of the brain and the spinal cord were quite fascinating, the brain being the powerful but mysterious organ of the central nervous system and essential for all bodily functions. Weighing only 2.6 pounds on an average, it contains billions of nerve cells which constantly communicate with one another and the rest of the tissues. Some brain cells can connect with more than 10,000 others in a split second!

One of the striking specimens, which created a unique visual image, was a special dissection revealing just the circulatory system, with arteries and gossamer capillaries in red and veins in blue, all the other tissues been dissolved away. The circulatory system is our body’s superhighway, covers a vast surface area, bringing nutrition to every cell line. Another remarkable exhibit was smoker’s lung: the shrunken, dark lungs from a cigarette smoker contrasted with the pink robust lungs from a healthy man, illustrating the tar build up from cigarettes, leading to the breakdown of the alveoli. “That is it for me, I am quitting today,” the guy who was standing next to me said. It was indeed frightening to see what smoking can do to one’s body.

The vital organ dissection provided another rare view into the compact and complex relationship that exists between many of the major organs. Some specimens brought out the symmetry of our body. This exhibit, one of a kind, again illustrates that your body is a unique and wonderful piece of art work and an engineering marvel. Quite different from the dissection of a shriveled nameless cadaver I did during the first year of my medical school!

At the exit, there is a little note on the wall, which is quite revealing:

“In this fast- paced world we have very little time for reflection on ourselves. When an illness is severe and our mortality comes into question, we take time to stop and ponder. But once cured, we are off again, not interested in the extraordinary and complicated human beings that we are. Our bodies are indeed more complex and wondrous than all of the computers and gadgetry that surround us today. They function, survive, destroy and revive. Take the knowledge gained from this exhibit, expand your horizons and become an informed participant in your own health care.”

How true!

Acknowledgment: Reprinted from Hernando Today.

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

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