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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Deceased Californians help advance the future of medicine

Since its establishment in 1968, the Body Donation Program at the UC Davis Medical Center has promoted the education of medical students and research.
“Of the bodies donated, about half go toward anatomical education and the other half go toward research,” said Charlotte Wacker, the director of the Body Donation Program.
Donated cadavers are used at the Medical Center, the Medical School, other UC institutions and for surgical development. On the UC Davis campus, the cadavers are used primarily for graduate classes in medical gross anatomy and graduate human anatomy, but are also used in undergraduate human anatomy.

Outside of the classroom, medical residents and advanced students use the cadavers to better hone their understanding of anatomy. Similarly, surgeons learn and practice new surgical techniques that help to save lives.

“A colleague once described not using cadavers to teach anatomy to be like teaching a mechanic how to fix a car without ever looking under the hood,” said Richard Tucker, a UC Davis professor and faculty advisor for the program. “Some medical schools have experimented in the past by using models and computer programs … and inevitably these schools have gone back to more traditional approaches.”
According to Tucker, the easiest and most intensive way to learn anatomy, medical procedures and the intricacies of the human body is to learn through interaction with a real one. This research and education can be essential for the elucidation of physiological interactions and how diseases affect the contained systems of the body.
The ethics of human donations are included in the students’ education. Toward the beginning of the anatomy classes, students meet the donors’ family members at a memorial service. Due to this intimacy with the subject, students often regard these cadavers as their patient. However, discretion is taken and students do not actually learn the name of the donor.
“Proper care of the donors’ remains is emphasized in the course, though few students need much prompting to do this,” Tucker said .
Donations are registered and accepted from anyone over the age of 18 years old. It is also possible that someone with the power of attorney for the deceased may donate a body after death.
Because of paperwork issues, all donations to the program must come from within California, most of which come from the Sacramento area. However, the program will refer other donations to their nearest program.
Within the state, there are nine body donation programs. Five of these programs reside within University of California institutions.

“We average about 150 donations per year,” Wacker said. “Ten years ago the average was 100 donations per year. The UC programs average around 1200 donations per year total.”

With this increase in donations, about 8500 people have registered with the program. Roughly half of those registered have been donated already.

ALEX STANTON can be reached at science@theaggie.org.


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