Lectures begin at medical school

July 15, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Dr. Noel Boaz hopes that advances in ultrasound technology will give the next generation of doctors a cheaper, less invasive way of diagnosing problems.

First, however, they have to know what they’re seeing. That’s why Boaz, board president of the Integrative Centers for Science and Medicine (ICSM), conducted two workshops on ultrasound and tissue dissection last week at ICSM’s gross anatomy classroom and lab at the West Piedmont Business Development Center in uptown Martinsville.

One workshop was for physicians and another was for anatomy students at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), according to Boaz.

The focus of the workshops was to give examples of what sorts of things could be seen on ultrasound by testing living tissue, then testing again on cadavers embalmed with a new process that replaces formaldehyde, and then dissecting bodies embalmed using traditional methods, Boaz said.

Using ultrasounds on cadavers for research and/or education is a “new sort of program,” he said, that wasn’t available in the U.S. until recently. The idea of better familiarizing physicians with how to use ultrasounds also is a relatively new concept, he added.

“There’s a lot of interest in ultrasounds today,” he said, because while most people associate them with expectant mothers, clinicians can use them in other areas as well.

“The advantage of it is you can do a type of screening” for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, he said. “If the doctor wants to assess whether they have carpal tunnel” he can do an ultrasound rather than sending the patient to radiologist to have an MRI, Boaz said. Thus, ultrasounds provide a cheaper, easier alternative.

More medical students are being trained in ultrasounds so they can use the images to assess a patient, Boaz said. For the anatomy students from PHCC, that means they can gain greater familiarity with certain conditions before doing dissection on a cadaver to examine the tissue up close.

“The only problem is, there’s a step missing,” Boaz added.

A cadaver embalmed with formaldehyde can’t be imaged, he said, because formaldehyde preserves tissue by removing water, which causes the tissue to become too dense to examine in a ultrasound. That’s why a new process called “soft embalming” is being used, Boaz said. It uses a substance other than formaldehyde for embalming.

The ICSM is the first medical organization in the U.S. to use soft embalming, clinically known as the Thiel Method after the Austrian anatomist who developed it, Boaz said. “We think it’s going to be popular with a lot of schools,” he added.

The purpose of soft embalming is to “make the connection from living to cadaver to the third specimen being dissected,” Boaz said.

Dr. James Wells, a research professor from the Department of Anatomy at the University of South Carolina, helped Boaz conduct Saturday’s workshop. He said the advantage of the three-tier examination was that it allowed those who observed to “to connect the three elements in a way that is understandable, easy to relate and offers a practical application at the end of a lesson.”

“We feel like ultrasound is going to be the 21st century stethoscope,” Wells added.

For medical students who have had no professional training, using ultrasounds and soft embalming allows them simply to gain a better understanding of the tissues they test, Wells said. He added that the cadavers and test subjects are not necessarily intended to have deficiencies or ailments.

Ultrasound “lends itself to a lot of interpretation,” he said. “The better you know normal anatomy, the better you’ll know abnormal anatomy.”

Boaz said most of the visiting physicians at Saturday’s workshop likely were from outside the area. Students who attended the Thursday workshop also were invited, as were local medical educators, he added.

ICSM’s Gross Anatomy lab will move to College of Henricopolis School of Medicine when that building is completed, Boaz said, and the use of ultrasound on soft-embalmed bodies likely will continue there.


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