International Anatomy Day: mapping the human body

For the inaugural day, we take a look at how far anatomical research has come.

Human anatomy, the study of the structure of the human body, has been crucial to developments in modern medical science. The past decade in particular has seen technological developments in medical imaging that, despite having greatly advanced visual representations of the interior of the body, also reveal how little we genuinely understand our detailed anatomy.

15 October 2019 is the first International Anatomy Day, providing anatomists with an opportunity to both celebrate anatomical advances like these, as well as convey the need for more research and development in the field.

Two medical images of the foot and ankle: one from the late 1990s (left) and one from the current day (right), showing much more detail

Image sources: Left - Rosenberg et al. (2000) MR imaging of the ankle and foot. Radiographics 20:S153-S179; Right - Fogg Laboratory, imaged by Associate Professor Bradford Moffat at the Melbourne Biomedical Imaging Capability (MBIC)

The images above of the ankle and foot demonstrate the marked improvements in imaging resolution since the late 1990s. In older images (left) the shape of bones and some soft tissues are visible.

Yet we can see with current images (right), the bones are sharper and the fine details of soft tissue throughout the foot are exceptionally clear. This allows individual tendons, ligaments and muscles to be visualised in ways that were not previously possible.

The University of Melbourne is an international leader in anatomical research and shaping the way the discipline is taught through new learning resources.

A significant part of this is the University’s Body Donor Program, administered by the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience. The program is the only one of its kind in Victoria and one of the largest in Australasia. The University is deeply grateful to the large number of Victorians who donate their body to science. Their contributions make it possible to provide exceptional educational opportunities for students and practising clinicians looking to advance their anatomical knowledge.

Why 15 October?

15 October marks the anniversary of the death of Andreas Vesalius in 1564, who is considered to be the founder of modern human anatomy. The observations Vesalius made overturned misconceptions in anatomy that had prevailed for centuries.