BODIES REVEALED to offer inner view of human body at GRPM

By Lauren Fitch | 11/17/10 8:22pm

Courtesy Photo / Bodies Revealed Bodies Revealed will be coming to the Van Andel Public Museum

Few people have seen a body like this before.

For the first time in West Michigan, an exhibit called BODIES REVEALED will provide an inside look at the human body through 12 full-body specimens dissected and preserved through plastination then posed performing various activities.

The exhibit assembled by Premier Exhibitions will be on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum from Saturday until May 1, 2011.

“This is an opportunity to see something amazing – to learn more about something so familiar and yet so mysterious,” said Kristy Harrington, Marketing and Public Relations manager for the GRPM. “The exhibition is beautiful and incredibly enlightening.”

She said the museum began seriously discussing bringing in an exhibit such as BODIES REVEALED three years ago. GRPM included educators, representatives from religious communities, medical personnel and other community leaders in the conversations.

“In each conversation, in each group and with each response, we saw the same result: overwhelmingly positive support,” Harrington said. “On that basis, we moved forward.”

From that point, the museum had to select which exhibit to bring to Grand Rapids because several companies have created similar displays. In the past, some exhibits have sparked controversy about the origins of the bodies.

Documented source of bodies

BODIES REVEALED was selected because there is clear documentation that all the bodies used were donated to science and specifically granted permission to be used for public exhibition.

“Our suppliers have confirmed that all of the bodies and organ specimens in BODIES REVEALED came from individuals who chose to donate their bodies to accredited medical universities in the People’s Republic of China,” according to the BODIES REVEALED website. “All specimens were then received by plastination facilities in China. Asia possesses the largest and most highly competent group of dissectors in the world, and they are highly skilled in preparing the bodies for educational and scientific purposes.”

In 2008, Premier Exhibitions issued a statement saying they could not verify the bodies they used in Bodies … The Exhibition were not Chinese prisoners who had been executed. However, Bodies Revealed is a separate display and each body has been documented to come from a legitimate source.

“We selected this exhibition because we wanted to assure our visitors of the provenance of the bodies,” Harrington said.

She encouraged college students to come see the display during its time at GRPM and also said the health care community in Grand Rapids would benefit from the exhibition.

“There is a great deal of excitement among local health care providers as well, many of whom will be volunteering their time to help within the exhibition,” Harrington said. “This exhibition is incredibly educational for those going into a medical field and those who simply want to learn more about their bodies.”

Impact at GVSU

Several biomedical science professors at Grand Valley State University have agreed with Harrington on the educational benefits of BODIES REVEALED.

Still because of past controversy surrounding Premier Exhibitions, Dr. Justin Adams, assistant professor of BMS, said he will not support BODIES REVEALED.

“If (GRPM) and their panel are satisfied that the specimens were ethically obtained, then that’s a valid position that I won’t contradict,” Adams said. “I’m not in a position to say that the documentation passes muster or not – I wasn’t part of the panel or privy to the documents. But personally, since this is the product of a company who has been comfortable in the past with making a profit from what is professionally unethical practices … I’m personally not comfortable with giving them my financial support. But that said, it’s a personal decision that everyone has to make.”

Adams said he visited a different plastination display, Body Worlds, in Chicago several years ago. Body Worlds is run by Gunther von Hagens, who first invented the preservation technique of plastination. The concept of studying real human specimens is a good one, Adams said.

“Overall I think anatomical displays are an incredible educational tool … It is the only comprehensive way to teach human anatomy – no computer model or textbook can stand in for the experience of teaching through dissection,” Adams said.

Dr. Tim Strickler, BMS professor, has also previously viewed the Body Worlds exhibit and even visited the von Hagens plastination facility in Germany. Strickler is also planning to see the BODIES REVEALED exhibit once it opens at GRPM and will bring some of his students working on dissections to see the display as well.

“Even if you’ve seen this particular one, it’s different specimens … it’s always interesting,” Strickler said.

He said despite the past controversies about documentation of the bodies, the companies now take extra care to increase transparency in where they get the bodies.

“Every place they’ve gone, they’ve been extremely well-attended,” Strickler said. “This is an amazing opportunity … Most people are interested in what’s inside their body. This is the first easily-available way for people to do this.”

One aspect of the display Strickler emphasized was the great option for people to give back even after their death.

“What’s a better way to contribute after you die than to be plastinated?” he said. “I’d love to be able to be useful to the world after I die.”

The GVSU cadaver lab does not have any full-body plastinated specimens, but Strickler estimated the GVSU cadavers have each taught about 2,000 students.

Beyond the classroom

One senior majoring in biomedical science, Alyssa Neph, will make use of what she has learned so far in the cadaver lab for her trip to BODIES REVEALED.

“From what I’ve learned in cadaver lab, I think it will be cool to see (BODIES REVEALED),” Neph said. “I’m sure I’ll learn something.”

Neph first saw the exhibit advertised on a sign downtown and said her anatomy class has also discussed it and most of her pre-med friends are planning to attend.

“I really enjoy cadaver lab. It’s really interesting to see all the muscles,” Neph said. “BODIES REVEALED shows you how muscles work and how you need different muscles for different activities.”

BODIES REVEALED is available for museum members at any time during open hours. Non-members can pre-purchase tickets for timed entry. Admission is $10 for adult members and $15 for adult non-members. Harrington said college classes can receive the $10/ticket rate by scheduling a group in advance at 616-456-1754. More information is available at www.grmuseum.org.


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