Learning anatomy with cadavers is a centuries-old rite of passage that once again is getting a face-lift as medical schools struggle to mix this core knowledge with an explosion of new information from the genetics revolution.
_Italian Mondino de Luzzi in the early 14th century reported on a series of dissections to illuminate body function. For years after that, dissections were done outside in public view, directed by a professor-type anatomist who seldom did the actual work. Sixteenth-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius is credited with breaking that trend, performing dissection himself as he taught and writing the influential drawing-filled text, "On the Workings of the Human Body."
_Today, the nation's 150 medical schools average about 149 hours of training in first-year gross anatomy, about two-thirds of which is spent with cadaver dissection, according to a new survey by the American Association of Anatomists. That's a lot less than just 75 years ago, when anatomy still made up about one-fifth of a doctor's education.
_Nearly one-third of schools integrate gross anatomy with initial clinical training. Two schools have older students do the dissecting and the first-year students just examine and handle the predissected body, saving time. One small school even has begun using unembalmed cadavers so the bodies feel more like what students will encounter in the operating room.
_New state-of-the-art anatomy labs put ventilation into the tables to eliminate odor and bring computers to the side of the dissection to guide students' cuts and explain what they're handling.
How do people donate their bodies for medical education or research?
Contact a nearby medical school to learn each program's requirements. Fill out a donation form, copies of which should be shared with family members or kept in the wallet or another easy-to-access spot to ensure those wishes are known at the time of death. While there is no upper age limit, most programs cannot accept bodies that have undergone autopsy or funeral-home embalming, or if the donor had certain infectious diseases; other requirements vary.
Sources: Georgetown University, American Association of Anatomists.
On the Net:
List of U.S. body-donation programs: http://tinyurl.com/2wn289
American Association of Anatomists: http://www.anatomy.org/