Anatomical Studies at RSU: From Prosection to Contemporary Technologies - Riga Stradiņš University

Anatomical Studies at RSU: From Prosection to Contemporary Technologies

16:30, 13 June, 2013
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anatomikuma-eka-pavasaris00Without anatomy, understanding illnesseses and their treatments is unimaginable. All medical and health care students at RSU undergo their study courses in anatomy at the RSU Institute of Anatomy and Anthropology, located in a historic building in central Rīga also known as the Anatomical Theatre. The façade of the building bears a plaque that reads “Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet, sucurrere vitae”, or “This is the place where death helps life”. Even though today anatomical studies have changed by the introduction of the internet, the interactive board, instructional DVDs, e-study systems, etc., there are things you cannot do without in the era of high technologies. 

“We are the best”, says professor Māra Pilmane, director of the Institute of Anatomy and Anthropology, with well-founded pride, because the Institute has everything that defines high quality study process and puts it in line with the respective EU requirements. A lot of the Institute’s offices and lecture rooms were renovated in 2012, and a few more are destined to undergo refurbishment in the near future. The teaching staff and students alike are fondly using the good old technologies alongside the contemporary advanced ones in anatomy classes and workshops: interactive projector and board, instructional videos and computer programmes.

“Some of the programmes we are using allow us to view the human body in different cross sections and layers, to see what it looks like in x-ray”, says assistant professor Dzintra Kažoka. “During classes, we are watching instructional videos that reveal everything about the body of a human being, from skin to bone. The good thing about the video usage in classes is that you can stop it any time, go back and watch it again while explaining things to students in greater detail in case they do not get something. Yes, and we also do analyse clinical cases”.

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There is another aspect that characterises the remarkable development of equipment and technologies used in the study process. In the past, the professor had to pick up a visual aid and fetch it on a tray from one end of the corridor to the other. Today, everything is set and ready in advance, considering the lecture schedule, and brought to the classroom in a trolley or by lift. Moreover, the visual aid is placed in a storage box or an enclosed container, so there is no smell when you open it.

The microscope is still in use in cell biology and embryology studies, although the contemporary version differs greatly from those that belong to the past. The modern day microscope has an internal source of illumination, high quality eyepieces, lenses, and specific optical systems.

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Scanned specimens on the internet

All of the anatomical specimens used during cell biology and embryology classes have already been scanned and posted to the University’s e-learning platform. The scanning of specimens for histology studies will be performed in the course of the next two years. “If the student fails to draw all the preparations during the class, he or she may continue at home by logging on to the e-learning system”, exemplifies professor Pilmane. Obviously, the good thing about e-studying is that it saves time.

Practical and contemporary visual aids

In the Anatomical Theatre, the students learn about the composition of the human body through work on sectional phantoms. Besides that, the students also use the visual aids bought from the German anatomist Gunther von Hagens who invented the technique of preserving parts of a dead body for unlimited time by full or partial plastination. Thus, our students are able to study blood vessel, nerve, muscle and other preparations.

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Computer programmes are not enough

“In reality, the only thing about anatomy that has not changed is the corpse”, points out professor Pilmane. “The world has gone a full circle and arrived at prosection again. The human being is unique, so that is a must to avoid mistakes, and our students have that opportunity here at the Anatomical Theatre.” What you see in your computer screen is one thing; it is touch, participation and training that make the experience whole.

For prosection, new technology tables have been installed. Those are equipped with a built-in fan which provides laminar airflow, i. e., the air circulates from the top and bottom, thus neutralising the smell of formalin used in the preservation of the human body. There is also a sink integrated with the table, so the students may wash or rinse their hands any time they need to look up a thing in their laptops or books within arm’s reach.

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The best learning method: see for yourself!

The Institute’s own museum is located in the basement of the building, offering visitors a vast display of collections of anatomical and embryological specimens and phantoms. As the museum is very well equipped, it is often visited not just by students and school youth, but also by doctors and RSU residents. The museum items include many worthy exhibits acquired from Pauls Stradiņš and Children’s Clinical University Hospital, pathologists’ collections etc. Some of those can be described, yet it is hard to visualise them, for example, variations of spinal cord damage, varicose veins, arterial thrombosis, etc.

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“Having seen this enormous tapeworm, school kids will always wash their hands”, says professor Pilmane, pointing toward a museum exhibit in formalin. Even though they have often heard about washing hands, it is here that they realise why it is so important, because they have actually seen a piece of a 10-metre tapeworm.

It has to be said that the experience of visiting the Institute’s museum often arouses schoolchildren’s interest towards medicine, and many of them will return to RSU as medical students in the next few years.


Rīga Stradiņš University, 16 Dzirciema Street, Rīga, LV-1007, Latvia, +371 67409261 (UTC +2), international@rsu.lv