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See bodies donated to science in all their glory

The Body Worlds Rx exhibit at DaVinci Center really gets under the skin


Body Worlds Rx is a prescription for good health — a dramatic exhibit that offers an extraordinary look at the interior of this constantly changing mass of cells we carry around with us as we stumble through life.

And, like many good medicines, it may offer a bitter taste that suddenly doesn’t matter after you’ve begun to feel better.

Just opened at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown, the exhibit runs through April 21, offering vivid once-human whole body specimens. It is co-sponsored by the Da Vinci Center and the Leonardo Society.

It’s true that a visit to the exhibit of once-human specimens may require a step beyond the viewer’s comfort zone, but any queasiness soon disappears as the miracle machine that is the human body is unveiled.

Dr. Angelina Whalley, an anatomist and curator of the exhibit, speaking at a press conference before its opening, said it clearly shows “the intricacies of the human body and allows people to see firsthand what we’re made of.” She called it “a powerful experience that has a profound impact on people’s lives.”

The exhibit includes a series of whole body plastinates as well as individual organs, blood vessels and transparent body slices that compare healthy and affected organs.

The plastinates are people who have donated their bodies to science and have directed they be used for educational purposes. The displays show muscles, organs, the nervous system and skeletal structures.

Some of the most common ailments explored are back pain, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and dementia.

Whalley’s husband, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, also an anatomist, developed plastination, a process that removes natural fluids in each cell and replaces them with a polymer that hardens and preserves the body.

Plastination produces solid, odorless, and durable anatomical specimens for scientific, medical and public instruction. A whole-body plastinate requires about 1,500 working hours to complete.

The exhibit stresses the long-term impact of diseases and addictions, such as tobacco or alcohol consumption, and demonstrates the mechanics of artificial knee or hip joints.

Individual specimens are used to compare healthy and diseased organs: for example, a healthy lung with that of a smoker, to emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Whalley called it “an exciting journey under the skin. It provides wide-ranging insight into the anatomy and physiology of the human body. She said, she has made it her “mission to make people aware of health issues and the fragile preciousness of life.”

More than 52 million people, including young children, have viewed previous Body Worlds exhibitions throughout the world. Since some young children may be upset by the exhibit, it is displayed in a restricted area of the center. Visitors should allow about an hour to go through the exhibit. The center is on Hamilton Avenue at the corner of the Cedar Crest College campus.


Body Worlds, Allentown, exhibits