Scientists from around the world gathered at Saint Mary's College of California this week for the 21st annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.
The conference, which was held June 9 through June 12, marked the first time that the association has ever met at a non-medical institution. The event was organized and hosted by Saint Mary's College biology professor Gregory Smith.
"It has given us quite a different atmosphere, more like a retreat," said Art Dalley, a professor of cell biology at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine. "It's been more congenial and more casual."
Dalley said meeting at the Saint Mary's conference facility and staying in the dormitories on the Moraga campus gave members more opportunities to interact and meet one another.
Among the highlights of the meeting was the first public presentation to anatomists on "The Helical Heart," a revolutionary new way of looking at the architecture of the heart. Dr. Gerald Buckberg, a professor of cardiac surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, explained how this innovative model is changing the way physicians treat heart disease and is leading to significantly higher survival rates. "I think it will have a big impact on the way the anatomy of the heart is taught," Dalley said.
A symposium titled "Donor Program Management: Legal, Financial and Operation Considerations" offered conference participants an overview of the challenges facing willed-body programs at medical schools across the country. Increased demand for body parts among clinicians and corporations for research and training purposes has created a black market where donated cadavers are sold for thousands of dollars.
Marsha Murphy, director of UC Irvine's Internal Audit Services, told an audience of anatomists that the university is now carefully controlling access to its laboratories and even installing cameras to prevent the theft of body parts.
"It's particularly risky because this inventory has a black-market value," said Murphy. "I was surprised to hear an attorney say many of these cases (of the illegal sale of cadavers) had a tie to the mob, to organized crime."
The issues raised at the session were particularly timely following the arrest in March of the director of UCLA's Willed Body Program for allegedly selling cadaver organs for personal gain. The UCLA scandal has renewed demands for greater oversight of the human tissue industry and intensified scrutiny of university-affiliated programs.
While some have called for an end to the controversial programs, Murphy said they should remain open because they are vitally important for research and education. "When the paramedics treat me after a car accident, I'd rather they had experience with a real body than with a plastic doll," she said.
Also speaking at the symposium was Tom Tempske, a laboratory examiner at the California Department of Health Services, who offered examples of human tissue and body brokering.
Earlier in the week, Dr. Tim White, a UC Berkeley paleoanthropologist, presented the conference's Presidential Paper titled "Evolution of Human Anatomy, a View from Afar." He discussed how he uses anatomy to analyze the fossils of hominids and Homo sapiens and how the grouping of our ancestors is based on anatomic variation.
The conference was jointly sponsored by Saint Mary's College of California and the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.
-- by Debra Holtz