“Learn About Living From the Dead” With von Hagens

By Deepa Narwani, Editor

One of the most intriguing displays at the show is Von Hagens Plastination that offers one-of-a-kind, real human specimens, preserved through the method of plastination, exclusively for medical teaching, anatomy labs, and presentation. These anatomical teaching resources are made possible through the revolutionary specimen preservation process of plastination, invented by anatomist Gunther von Hagens, founder of von Hagens Plastination. The company is attending as part of a co-exhibitorship with Leader Healthcare.

Rurik von Hagens, Managing Director, von Hagens Plastination tells Daily Dose: “von Hagens is involved in plastination, a process, which my father invented 40 years ago in Germany. What this process does is that it permanently preserves human bodies. The preservation is first of all permanent and will last longer than the mummies of the Pharaoh!

"It can show a level of detail, on these permanently preserved specimens, which are not possible anywhere else. It is, therefore, perfect for medical teaching – they are dry, non-infectious, so you don’t have to worry about any health hazards, and at the same time it is the best tool of teaching you could have.”

Rurik von Hagens at Arab Health 2019

Rurik shares that von Hagens started as a small venture but after 15 years, they started the world-renowned exhibition Body Worlds. The primary goal of the exhibition is preventive healthcare and it was conceived to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and to show the effects of healthy and unhealthy lifestyles. It is aimed to inspire visitors to become aware of the fragility of their bodies and to recognise the anatomical individual beauty inside each of us. Currently, there are 11 Body Worlds exhibitions in the entire world.

Furthermore, Rurik emphasised that for von Hagens the ethical side of the business is of utmost importance because all of the specimens are real people. “It is really essential that we have donated bodies for these specimens. We have our own donation programme and the people who are shown here today decided during their lifetime that they would either be part of an exhibition or that their specimens would be used in medical teachings. This is something that is very important for us.”

“Body Worlds is one of the most successful exhibitions in the world that attracts a large number of visitors,” says Rurik. “The exhibition has a strong impact on people because everyone has a body and the exhibition is all about you. It allows you the possibility to see under your skin. You learn about living from the dead at this exhibition.”

Each exhibition contains real human specimens, including a series of fascinating whole-body plastinates as well as individual organs, organ configurations, blood vessels, and transparent body slices. The plastinates take the visitor on an exciting journey under the skin. It provides wide-ranging insight into the anatomy and physiology of the human body. In addition to organ functions, common diseases are described in an easily understood manner by comparing healthy and affected organs.

It demonstrates the long-term impact of diseases and addictions, such as tobacco or alcohol consumption, and shows the mechanics of artificial knee or hip joints. Individual specimens are used to compare healthy and diseased organs, i.e., a healthy lung with that of a smoker, to emphasise the importance of a healthy lifestyle. He highlights that the company would love to bring Body Worlds to Dubai, because the exhibition is not just for schools but for everybody. “Everybody has a body, and everybody should be able to see what they are made of. We still have to find the right venue and partners, but it is something we are looking into and we hope that happens in the near future.

“At Arab Health, our aim is for people to learn about our specimens and how special they are. Many people have somehow heard about the process, but it is something very different when they see our specimens in reality. They see the very fine dissections that we do, so even experts say that “I heard about it, I read about it, but now that I see it, it is something so different”. Our main target is for people to see it so that people are aware of how special they are, and this is only possible when they see it in person.”

Teaching Tool

Rurik highlights that the company provides these specimens for medical schools as it makes for the perfect teaching tool. “So, any medical school with a good teaching programme in our opinion should have one of our plastinates. New York University in the U.S. uses them, so does Warwick University in the UK, among other leading educational institutes all over the world. More and more institutions are starting to use it. We started offering this just five to six years back and are still a little bit at the starting point here even though the technique is very old. But already many well-renowned universities are using it, right from Singapore, to America, to Europe, and to the Middle East,” he adds.

Rurik shares that the company is attending the show for the first time and his impression is that a lot of attention is paid into healthcare in the region. He says: “A lot of investments are made into healthcare here, there are many new schools here and overall, they really pride themselves on excellency here. And this philosophy fits very well with us because these are the very same values that we represent.” He highlights that Leader Healthcare and von Hagens also recently did an installation for Khalifa University Abu Dhabi.

He stresses that the company’s big vision is that any university teaching should have plastinates. “For this, we are really working hard and are having more than 75 people working in Germany on making specimens. It is a very time-consuming and hard process, but our goal is really to expand that. Every school should have that. We are also further developing and are developing the exhibitions, adding new themes and specimens to the exhibition, and that’s our way forward,” he concluded.

Sukhdeep Sachdev, Global CEO, Leader Healthcare adds: “Donors of the von Hagens programme have declared that once they die their body can be used for research purposes. When the person dies, they can take a specific organ such as the heart, kidney or pancreas, and through a process of plastination they are preserved for the next 20 years. The advantage with this is that researchers then get to know human specimens exactly. They can observe each neuron, cells, and tissue structure, so the teaching becomes better. It is going to be one of the highlights for us at the show.”