Trephination, or the practice of drilling holes into one’s skull, is a neurological procedure that has been employed all over the globe since the Neolithic period. Due its importance in treating a range of intra-cranial maladies, different cultures developed a range of highly effective tools and methods for drilling into the skulls of living patients.
Inca people in Pre-Columbian Peru, for example, used metal scalpels and obsidian blades to treat a range of problems, from the physical to the mental to the spiritual; there is evidence that the practice was employed both by highly trained “surgeons” and somewhat less precise “shamans.” Some studies claim that the practice was entirely religious and that retrieved circles of bone were worn as amulets. Despite the invasive nature of the surgery, many skulls from this period show signs of repair, implying that patients survived after surgery, and some skulls even display signs of multiple procedures.
Europe serves as home to many of the oldest trepanned skulls, many dating over 6000 years old. The process, however, endured well through the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period. As late as the 17th Century, scientists continued to illustrate volumes depicting the process and tools with which the brain surgery was performed. The image below, for example, is from accomplished surgeon Johannes Scultetus’s 1655 volume Armamentarium chirurgicum.
Charles Le Brun (b. 1619-1690), declared by Louis XIV to be the “greatest French artist of all time,” was one of the King’s pensioned artists and a director of the French Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture. Captivated by human expressions, Le Brun gave a lecture in 1668 describing the various distortions of the human face brought on by emotion. Later in 1671, Le Brun delivered a more fully fleshed out speech in 1671 that discussed the facial shapes of various figures of antiquity, their relation to animal features, and ultimately the connection between human physical characteristics and the brain’s function. Although the text of his speech has since been lost, Le Brun’s graphed-out comparative sketches of human faces (with anthropomorphic renderings of their animal inspirations) display the way in which he measured the various angles and spaces of the human face to relate them to the brain’s pineal gland (the soul’s location according to Descartes). By observing these angles, Le Brun was able to “discern” personality traits from each of his figures.
Fascinating article re-blogged from the BBC website and written by Joe Miller
Miniature human organs developed with a modified 3D printer are being used to test new vaccines in a lab in the US.
The “body on a chip” project replicates human cells to print structures which mimic the functions of the heart, liver, lung and blood vessels.
The organs are then placed on a microchip and connected with a blood substitute, allowing scientists to closely monitor specific treatments.
The US Department of Defense has backed the new technology with $24m (£15m).
Bioprinting, a form of 3D printing which, in effect, creates human tissue, is not new. Nor is the idea of culturing 3D human tissue on a microchip.Dr Anthony AtalaWake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
But the tests being carried out at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina are the first to combine several organs on the same device, which then model the human response to chemical toxins or biologic agents.
The modified 3D printers, developed at Wake Forest, print human cells in hydrogel-based scaffolds.
The lab-engineered organs are then placed on a 2in (5cm) chip and linked together with a circulating blood substitute, similar to the type used in trauma surgery.
The blood substitute keeps the cells alive and can be used to introduce chemical or biologic agents, as well as potential therapies, into the system.
Sensors which measure real-time temperature, oxygen levels, pH and other factors feed back information on how the organs react and – crucially – how they interact with each other.
Dr Anthony Atala, institute director at Wake Forest and lead investigator on the project, said the technology would be used both to “predict the effects of chemical and biologic agents and to test the effectiveness of potential treatments”.Miniature tissue samples can be exposed to toxins as well as potential treatments
“You are actually testing human tissue,” he explained.
“It works better than testing on animals.”
A group of experts from around the US is involved in putting together the technology, which will carry out toxicity testing and identification.
The funding for the project was awarded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a division of the US government which combats nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
The tests being carried out at Wake Forest “would significantly decrease the time and cost needed to develop medical countermeasures” for bioterrorism attacks, said Dr Clint Florence, acting branch chief of vaccines within the Translational Medical Division at DTRA.
Wake Forest said it was able to test for antidotes to sarin gas, recently used against civilians in Syria.
Dr Atala, whose field is regenerative medicine, said the bioprinting technology was first used at Wake Forest for building tissues and organs for replacement in patients.
His team had managed to replicate flat organs, such as skin, tubular organs such as blood vessels, and even hollow non-tubular organs like the bladder and the stomach, which have more complex structures and functions.
But building solid organs like the heart and the liver is the hardest challenge yet.A combination microscope and incubator is used to image tissue over time
It takes about 30 minutes just to print a miniature kidney or heart, which is the size of a small biscuit.
“There are so many cells per centimetre that making a big organ is quite complex,” Dr Atala told the BBC.
But the bioprinting of full size solid organs might not be far away.
“We are working on creating solid organ implants,” said Dr Atala.
Read more about how bio-printing works here
“The interior of our bodies is hidden to us. What happens beneath the skin is mysterious, fearful, amazing.” These are the opening sentences to Dream Anatomy, an incredible online exhibition of anatomical drawings from the US Library of Medicine. Medical diagrams and anatomical men, especially those that predate “modern science,” are some of my favorite images to view and contemplate. From grotesque medieval illuminations to the body-machine maps of the industrial revolution, these images reveal the myriad considerations that people juggle when documenting the anatomy we all share. More importantly, I feel like anatomical diagrams display the ways in which “hard” science is very relative. Although humans have been practicing science (and even dissections) for thousands of years, these diagrams serve as a visual reminder of the different assumptions and pre-occupations that affect our search for and depiction of reality.
Below, some of my favorites from the exhibition, online, and my personal collection:
Thanks to a small (and now finally resolved) medical mystery, I’ve managed to develop a sizable collection of images of my own body’s interior. Perhaps it’s a simple case of narcissism, but from the crisp, flat CT scans to the subtly-modeled MRI prints, these images completely fascinate me. It seems crazy that such mystical-looking – even Surrealistic (Rayogram-y, maybe?) – images are being used by doctors to determine the “truth” of my physiology. Although chronological grids of of my skulls at ever-so-slightly differing angles convey a sense of something scientific or at least physiognomic, there are moments at which the body, pictured at an unconventional angle, seems to dissolve into abstraction. Not to mention the bizarrity of seeing a photograph of the body I know to be mine only to see something completely alien.
[All images displayed here are mine and of me.]
In 1991, two German hikers stumbled upon a 5300 year old mummy nestled in the Ötzal Alps. The mummy, later extracted from the ice and dubbed the “Tyrolian Iceman,” sported over 50 simple charcoal tattoos, from lines on his wrists to hatching on his back and a cross on his knee. The purpose of these tattoos, however, remained mysterious until eight years later when Austrian researchers published a (somewhat disputed) paper noting the striking correspondence between the mummy’s tattoos and “trigger sites” in Eastern acupuncture. Radiological studies confirmed that the mummy had suffered from myriad deformities and illnesses during his life, including missing ribs, whipworm and arthrosis in his joints; many of his tattoos appeared in spots that were most afflicted by these illnesses, suggesting a therapeutic rather than aesthetic function.
Medicinal tattooing, however, extends far beyond the bounds of the Iceman’s life both geographically and temporally. The oldest tattoo, found on an Egyptian mummy, dates over 6000 years. And today, as researcher and tattoo enthusiast Lars Krutak notes, Kayan people in Borneo continue to tattoo sprained wrists, ankles, and knees to decrease swelling, and Kalinga people in the Philippines tattoo markings on their neck to cure goiter.
To read more on the discovery of the Iceman: NBC News
For more on medicinal tattooing in general: Smithsonian Blog
The 1999 scientific paper on the Iceman’s tattoos. (I should note that while this paper is an interesting read, I don’t possess the expertise to determine how solid its claims are.)
Presented by SOCIÉTÉ, Berlin
The world turns, and we turn with it.
–Brad Pitt for Chanel No. 5
My favorite descriptions of entropy are from the sixth grade: ‘After you’ve tidied your bedroom, do you notice that it becomes less orderly over time?’
Life is messy.
Today ‘the natural’ and its phenomena require close scrutiny. Organic prejudice presumes exclusion of the synthetic, though we are all touched by culture. (Even trees.) Back-pedaling from Enlightenment positivism, there is broad-based skepticism for the industrial application of measurement standards – though numbers and statistical analyses maintain a rational grip on our imagination. Quantifiability = a semblance of control. My iPhone pedometer counts the footsteps from my flat to the library (I purposely take long strides), a customized flow of meta-data that will probably, you know, prevent my premature death.
No GMOs! No artificial preservatives! In the 1960s certain Americans – counter culture sympathizers – shunned caffeine (a chemical). I drink coffee every morning; know vegans getting by on M&Ms & MDMA. Just last week the US Supreme Court banned patents for ‘natural’ human DNA. Yet if strategic biological reproduction is now a solipsistic act (no coitus needed), surely ‘natural’ procreation remains a vestigial convention? Heritage is a fetish label applicable to a certain class of denim. All venture capitalists should invest in male birth control.
The game theory of evolution helps to explain altruistic behavior within the Darwinian process. “Seduce usefully. Don’t waste your time attracting just anybody” (Tiqqun, Theory of the Young-Girl). Such are compromises of mutual benefit based on mutual fear; though it depends on what you believe about material relationships. I mean, ‘believe’ –
If the essence of cotton is undestroyed when it is burned – stupidly – by fire (cf. Harman), is the same true for the human spirit, or, a yoga mat? Melting as a caricature of the PVC-plastic-latex amalgam: the substantial (irreversible) achievement of Zen. In the 1980s yoga was legitimized as a purely physical exercise system severed from esotericism; and now the hygienic mat is mandatory at most studios, a functional object that transforms meditative philosophy into sport. Deep breathing in child’s pose is far more rigorous than collapsing into a chair. Just… let… go…
But we do so only after insuring ourselves, against the odds, into emotional bankruptcy. Is stimulation – of body, eye, intellect – still necessary for the living?
I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them, (and there are many that do so,) they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them . . . But to what end, in many cases, this was designed, I am unable to discover.
–Edmund Burke, 1796
Words by Kari Rittenbach
OPENING THIS FRIDAY (June 21st), 7-10pm