Surgery Museum Holds Wonders for the Brave

By Perkins, Sid | Science News, April 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

Surgery Museum Holds Wonders for the Brave


Perkins, Sid, Science News


You would expect a place called the International Museum of Surgical Science to display a lot of sharp-edged instruments --and does it ever. From ancient blades used to cut holes in a patient's skull (a still-mysterious procedure called trepanation) to the modern devices used to remove blockages from blood vessels, this Chicago museum provides a fascinating historical tour of surgical technology.

In many cases the old gadgets on display would be thoroughly familiar to today's physicians. Surgical tools unearthed from the Roman city of Pompeii, smothered by volcanic ash in the year 79, are barely different from their modern analogs. These and other relics will appeal especially to those who are medically inclined or have an interest in history.

Yet the museum doesn't just dwell on past glories. Visitors can see how prosthetics have advanced from the days of peg legs and hooks to high-tech devices made with advanced alloys, and how anesthesia has evolved from a stiff gulp of booze to sophisticated mixtures of pain-killing gases and drugs. A display of artificial heart valves shows how surprisingly delicate the devices are and drives home the intricacy of repairing the human body.

Gazing toward the future, the exhibit Surgicogenomics: Genes and Stem Cells in Surgery offers the promise that a patient's detailed genetic information could someday be used to fine-tune treatment. Doctors could prescribe medicines and dosages based on how a particular patient, not just the population at large, might respond to a drug. Knowledge of a patient's genome may one day help doctors identify which patients might benefit from a procedure and which wouldn't, says Tobias Raabe, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and one of the exhibit's scientific advisers.

The museum resides in a four-story mansion about 2 kilometers north of downtown Chicago. …

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