Seeing Our Bodies Anew

Assistant Professor Joel Talsma embarks on a three week fascial dissection project, the first of its kind

Since its international debut in 1995, the Body Worlds exhibit has taken anatomy out of the lab and into the museum, displaying preserved human bodies in dynamic positions that reflect their lived function. In a new undertaking, Joel Talsma, Assistant Professor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, has embarked on a three-week trip this October to the Body Worlds headquarters in Guben, Germany where he will head a fascial dissection project that is the first of its kind. The scientists hope to illuminate a part of the body that is often overlooked.

Assistant Professor Joel Talsma“The work will be very detailed dissection or prosection (the display of a cadaver to demonstrate its anatomic structure). It will be an intense eight to five, Monday through Friday, to remove all the other tissue and maintain the fascia,” explained Mr. Talsma. “It has been a success so far, but it’s going to be quite a challenge. We don’t really know what is going to survive the plastination process.”

Mr. Talsma took part in the first phase of the project in 2017, which focused on the fascia of the arm, knee, and lower back. The project was presented at the 2018 Fascia Research Conference in Berlin.

This new phase of the project, which will span from July to December of this year, will attempt to unveil the fascia throughout the entire human body with the goal of having the work on display at the 2021 Fascia Research Congress in Toronto.

The process of plastination, which was created in the 1970s, includes four key phases. Beginning with a formaldehyde embalmed cadaver, any undesired tissue is removed. What remains undergoes an acetone bath. Then the tissues are put into a plastic polymer bath, replacing the acetone. Finally, the readied parts are subjected to heat or an ultraviolet ray until they harden into the desired pose.

“The old definition of fascia is ‘connective tissue with an irregular weave, regardless of density’, basically a mesh,” said Mr. Talsma. “But it has many functions, such as the wrapping of muscles and bones. It is the tensional network of the body.”

Still, there are many scientific questions regarding fascia that are still unanswered, such as whether it can contract, feel pain, or play a role in the immune system.

The role of fascia has much interest not only for anatomists like Mr. Taslma, but medical and body movement professionals as well. In addition to doctors of osteopathic medicine, yoga instructors, physical therapists, and massage therapists also have much to gain from a new understanding of fascia, said Mr. Talsma.

To keep track of project to create the world’s first 3D fascia plastinates, visit here.