Decades-old dissection shows details of the nervous system

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A nervous system that was dissected nearly 100 years ago is now the subject of a stunning display at a museum in Missouri.

The organ system was revealed after two med students, L.P. Ramsdell and M.A. Schalck, were handed a cadaver in 1925 and told to dissect it.

They began at the brain’s base and worked their way down, managing to keep the system in one piece.

It took Ramsdell and Schalck 1,500 hours over the course of many months to dissect the body, according to Live Science.

The result is on display at the Museum of of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Missouri, where the body was dissected. The museum is run by the A.T. Still University (ATSU).

The identity of the person whose nervous system is on display is unknown. Museum director Jason Haxton told Live Science that the body likely came from a poor house or a prison.

These two were the main resources for people seeking medical cadavers in 1925.

But the person’s remains have turned out to be pricey: Haxton told Live Science that the nervous system exhibit’s estimated value was $1 million a decade ago.

He said of the exhibit: ‘Medical students come into the museum and stare at it in amazement. Sometimes, they’ll run in after a test to check their work. People familiar with dissection say this is truly a miracle piece.’

The experiment came about when Ramsdell and Schalck’s work stood out after each person in their class had to dissect an arm.

‘These two students’ dissections were so detailed and so much better than any other students’ that they were chosen to dissect an entire body,’ Haxton explained.

Ramsdell and Schalck started at the brain stem and went down from there, cutting through the skin, protective tissue and muscle to reveal the spinal cord while clearing nerve fibers.

 

‘After they cleared each nerve, they rolled them in cotton batting soaked in some kind of preservative. So, as they worked their way down, there was just a mass of little rolls of cotton,’ Haxton said. The preservative chemicals used during the experiment are unknown.

Ramsdell and Schalck mounted the system, which took one year to dissect, on a piece of shellacked wood. 

They put hundreds of labels on the display, and the finished product made its way to museums and medical conferences around the US.

Haxton said that only three similar dissections exist. Eleven years after Ramsdell and Schalck began their now world famous dissection, ATSU researchers duplicated their experiment and donated the nervous system to the Smithsonian Institution.

The other two can be found in Philadelphia and Thailand.

 

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