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Models of the human body on display at new Hunterian Museum exhibition

24 Nov 2015

3D models of the brain and skull - which have a similar look, texture and feel to the human body - are on public display at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).

Visitors to the Hunterian Museum at the RCS will have a rare opportunity to view and touch the models. Designed by experts at the Royal College of Surgeons, they are used by neurosurgeons to practise treating patients with serious head injuries, or complex operations such as removing brain tumours.

Mr Martyn Cooke, Head of the Conservation Unit at the Royal College of Surgeons, pioneered the models after Major David Baxter - a neurosurgeon in the Royal Army Medical Corps - asked the RCS to develop a model of the brain and skull for surgeons to train in treating head trauma injuries. Mr Cooke designed the models so they have a similar look and texture to the real life equivalent, by experimenting with waxes, resin and gelatine.

He said: “We wanted to give surgeons a realistic experience of cutting into the skull to drain fluid from the brain following a major trauma incident, or to experience opening up a skull and removing a tumour.

“The simulated model needs to look and feel like the human equivalent so that surgeons can practise their techniques before they use cadavers, or operate on patients. Ultimately, our ambition is to improve surgeons’ skills for the benefit of patients.”

The skulls and brains are part of the exhibition ‘Designing Bodies: Models of human anatomy from 1945 to now’. It explores how pioneering anatomists and surgeons at the RCS and elsewhere have developed striking 3D anatomical models of the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and limbs to improve surgical training and patient care over the years.

The exhibition includes models by the orthopaedic surgeon Mr John Hicks of the lower leg and foot, which were used to improve treatment of patients with leg injuries in the 1950s and 1960s. It also showcases Mr David Hugh Tompsett’s collection of cast vessels of organs such as the liver, kidney, airways and lungs. These spectacular 3D models show the very delicate composition of blood vessels and helped trainee surgeons and medical students to understand their structure.

Dr Sam Alberti, Director of Museums and Archives at the RCS, said:

“Medical models have been used to train and educate surgeons for centuries. This very exciting exhibition shows some of the more imaginative - and modern - techniques that have transformed surgery for patients in this country.

“Surgeons need to practise on models that closely replicate the human body, to perfect their skills and techniques. This is why we take great pride at the RCS in investing in and supporting the development of models which will help transform surgical care for patients.”

Anthropologist Dr Elizabeth Hallam, guest curator of the exhibition, said: “This fascinating and striking exhibition captures how important design is to anatomical education, surgical training and advancing medical treatments.

“The public have a rare chance to glimpse behind the scenes - and see how artists, anatomists, surgeons and scientists have collaborated on projects to improve surgical care in the operating theatre.”

The Hunterian Museum is open to the public on Tuesday to Saturday, from 10am to 5pm and entry is free.

  • The exhibition opens today (Tuesday 24 November) and will run until Saturday 20 February, 2016.

 Notes to editors

1. Mr Martyn Cooke is Head of the Conservation Unit at the Royal College of Surgeons.  
He is a trained histologist and prepared patients’ biopsies for medical analysis.  He has also had a life-long interest in making models. Mr Cooke combined his two interests in life to design a model skull and brain.  This is used by neurosurgeons to practise treating patients who have suffered a head trauma, or to practise removing a brain tumour. 

The materials Mr Cooke and his team use have created a similar look, texture, feel and weight to the human skull and brain. This allows surgeons to practise using equipment and hone their techniques on simulated models which are very similar to the real thing. 

2. Orthopaedic surgeon Mr John Hicks (1915-1992) worked at Birmingham Accident Hospital. 
 He developed models of the lower leg and foot in the 1950s and 1960s to help treat patients with leg injuries. He wanted to explain and describe movement to improve the medical treatment of leg injuries, particularly fractured bones.

3. Mr David Hugh Tompsett (1910-1991) was a prosector at the RCS for 30 years (from 1945).  He created a collection of cast vessels of organs such as the liver, kidney, airways and lungs.  These models showed the very delicate composition of the blood vessels in these organs and helped trainee surgeons and medical students to understand their 3D structure. 

4. The exhibition has been sponsored by B. Braun Medical Ltd, The Henry Moore Foundation and the Strauss Charitable Trust. 

5. Press images are available upon request.  For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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