Tomorrow morning, I start the Anatomy and Embryology class that all medical and dental students here at the University of Washington take. I’m neither, but since my PhD dissertation work centers around teaching anatomy, I’m taking it.
Anatomy is typically taught using a combination of methods: lectures, living anatomy, and dissection. Of these, dissection is the most remarkable and unique. There’s really no other field of study in which you are so closely exposed to the dead and thus to thoughts of your own mortality. It’s an intense experience. I’m not sure what to think, or how to feel.
I know from visiting the dissection labs briefly last year that I won’t simply freak out and be unable to cope. But, I also know that there’s a pervading sense of unease and queasiness from being in the room that I’ll have to cope with. It’s not clear to me if that will come with time, or whether it will take substantial reflection.
I know that the smell won’t be intense or even particularly bothersome. But, I also know that there’s a raw physicality to it all that reminds me too much of cured meat for that to be an attractive food stuff for some time.
I’m not worried about being shocked. On the contrary, I expect to be fixated and fascinated. I’m worried about the slow moving emotional effect of being around the dead, and what effect that will have on me. Worried is the wrong word – curious and a little apprehensive is probably more accurate. Curious because I want to know how it’ll affect me, and apprehensive because I really have no idea what to expect.
Regardless, it will be challenging, and intensely meaningful. If that doesn’t make something worth doing, I don’t know what is.
The idea is that if someone is warned of an imminent seizure in advance, say 20 minutes out, they can remove themselves from unsafe or embarrassing situations, take other precautions (lying down, perhaps), or take fast acting drugs that might stop it from happening. This is a big deal, as it helps the 30% or so of those suffering from the disease for whom conventional drug treatment doesn’t work. It may also allow some of those receiving drugs to come off them, reduce their dose, or shift to less effective drugs with fewer side effects. It might also help reduce the number of deaths from epilepsy-related accidents – 50,000 annually in the US, apparently.
The technology’s actually fairly simple. There’s three main parts, none of which appears to be particularly magical.
It’s in trials at the moment in Australia, and is apparently performing well, with no known associated adverse events.
Apparently, this all started out with Jaideep’s PhD research into the sensorimotor function of moths – he basically designed chips and implants small enough to put in a moth, then studied the different nerve signals associated with its wings as it flew. They also did trials of the epilepsy detection technology on dogs, as they also suffer from epilepsy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find copies of the cute pictures he showed in the talk.
If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a 5 minute video article from ABC News in Australia talking about it. It’s formatted a bit weird, so you might need to download it and switch to the second audio track in VLC.
Edit: Apparently the electrodes are implanted beneath the dura mater, but outside the arachnoid mater. So, between the second and third membranes that encase the brain.