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Pre-medical, pre-nursing and pre-dental students studying at Cameron University all take human anatomy courses prior to professional school, and the new gross anatomy lab on campus will help better prepare them for advanced studies.Terry Conley, dean of Cameron University’s School of Science and Technology, highlights features of the new gross anatomy lab during a tour last week. The lab features surgical grade flooring, four work stations for human cadavers, stainless steel sinks and showers and energy efficient lighting.One of the most crucial design features is a state-of-the-art system that changes the air in the room about 18 times an hour while still preserving the air temperature.

Cameron now equipped for cadavers in gross anatomy

At the far back end of the biological laboratories wing at the Cameron University Sciences Complex building there is a new, keycard-locked door adorned with a chemical hazard sign. All windows and doors connected to the room are frosted and a security camera is fastened just outside the entrance. 

The old storage room that lies just beyond the guarded entrance has been replaced with what looks like a minimalist and modern surgery center complete with blue vinyl flooring, sinks, chemical washes and a tool chest filled with scalpels and clamps.

The swivel lighting systems are mounted to the ceiling above four stainless steel tables just the right dimensions for a human body. In fact, once the bodies arrive, the lab will become a restricted area and the students' work can begin. 

That's right. Cameron University students will now be dissecting real human bodies.

Students enrolled in the human anatomy coursenext summer will be the first to use the new gross anatomy lab at Cameron, working with two human cadavers slated to arrive in several months. 

Last week Cameron President John McArthur, Dean of Sciences Terry Conley, instructors, McMahon Foundation trustees and some curious staff and students took a look at the new 750-square-foot facility  hailed as one of the best in the area  which is expected to provide students with an educational experience a cut above the rest.

Once the specimens arrive, only two instructors and their anatomy students  some of whom have been delaying enrollment in human anatomy classes until the gross anatomy lab was completed  will be permitted to enter the lab. Not even the custodial staff is allowed in, meaning the instructors will be required to tidy up after sessions each day. 

The plan to open a gross anatomy lab began over a year ago, inspired by student interests in professional fields related to biological sciences and medicine. Students in pre-medical, pre-dental, pre-nursing or pre-physical assistance programs often complete coursework at Cameron before moving on to graduate studies.

"When they reach medical school and perform work in the gross anatomy lab, that is typically their first experience with dissection of an actual human body," Conley said. "Students going into health careers must have a detailed knowledge of the body, its systems and tissues."

While some institutions are relying more on virtual or simulated visualizations or elaborate models of the human body and organs, Conley said they simply aren't the same. It's impossible to get a concrete idea of how firmly the underlying tissues are attached to the epidermis or how the organs actually feel using simulations. 

Students taking human anatomy at Cameron currently study on plastinated specimens  freeze-dried arms or legs that have been previously dissected (prosected) to reveal the underlying tissues  but the gross anatomy lab will give them a more realistic look at their future careers early in the game.

"First and foremost, this isn't for everyone," Conley said, explaining why the earlier exposure to human cadaver work is beneficial. "This is a way to break the ice and allow students to get an idea of what they're in for ... (Also) This is the real thing. We teach with models ... and see wonderful, colorful illustrations of cells in textbooks and quickly realize after looking into a microscope, that isn't what it looks like."

During the class, which is a combination of in-class instruction and lab work, students work on the specimens in groups. At the start of each semester, two new cadavers will come into the lab and stay for two semesters before being swapped out. Students will dissect the two new cadavers while still performing studies using the two prosected specimens from the previous semester. Four to six students can work at one of the four stations simultaneously. The variety of human specimens  plastinated, prosected and undissected  will allow for a wide variety of lessons and discovery. 

"You name it, they're going to look at it," Conley said. 

Starting an anatomy lab required research and planning to meet the state Anatomical Board's guidelines for dissecting humans. Universities cannot simply decide to begin obtaining and using cadavers for instruction without regulation. 

The administration at Cameron began the planning process with a visit to another lab in the area. There are currently gross anatomy labs at only five universities in the state, and those for undergraduate anatomy study (some are used for funeral direction programs) are few and far between. 

Conley said administrators obtained a copy of the Anatomical Board's guidelines for the use and procurement of human cadavers to begin planning a space. 

The lab itself must meet several requirements, but the most important feature is an air circulation system. The embalmed cadavers are actually stored at room temperature inside a stainless steel table with a retracting base and closing doors to preserve moisture.

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