Spring 2017

In a New Light

Anatomy lab gets a high-tech makeover and airy new space thanks to a $15 million donation.

By Bruce Morgan

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Illustrations: Payette

For years, Tufts’ medical and dental students have learned gross anatomy in a cramped, windowless room in the basement of the M&V Building on Harrison Avenue that has seen few updates since the 1950s. Now, the outdated lab is about to enter the 21st century. With a $15 million gift from the Jaharis Family Foundation Inc., the anatomy lab will be enlarged, given a technology upgrade and moved to airy new quarters on the third floor of the M&V. The work is scheduled to be completed in summer 2018.

“I know firsthand that the gross anatomy lab needs to be completely redone to bring it up to today’s standards,” said Steven Jaharis, M87, speaking on behalf of the foundation. “It’s the one laboratory that basically hasn’t changed since I was a student 30 years ago.”

The Jaharis family is a well-known name on Tufts’ health sciences campus in Boston. They made the cornerstone gift for the Jaharis Family Center for Biomedical and Nutrition Sciences, which opened in 2002. A few years later, they funded the wholesale renovation of the Sackler Building, transforming it into a handsome student learning center.

Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco said the Jaharis family’s philanthropy aligns with a core value of the university—to act as an engine for social good. “There’s nothing more noble than an investment in education and the health and well-being of our society,” he said.

Since the time of the Greeks, an understanding of anatomy has been basic to the effective practice of medicine. Robert Willson, a senior lecturer and director of the gross anatomy course, calls his field “the oldest and most fundamental of all the medical sciences.” Dental students take the gross anatomy course in the first semester of their first year.




How best to teach the subject has been a matter of some debate among U.S. medical schools as digital methods of representing the human body have been widely adopted. With the new anatomy lab, Tufts has reinforced its commitment to hands-on physical dissection as a critical component of medical education.

“Overall, the trend has been for schools to go away [from physical dissection], although many have come back to it,” said Jeffrey Marchant, research assistant professor and associate director of the Division of Medical Education at the School of Medicine. “In our view, in order to learn the material, students have to go into the lab and physically dissect the parts of the body. Searching for structures is an important part of the learning process.” In other words, digital anatomy programs rely heavily on a standardized model of the human form, but in the real world, bodies vary considerably from one to the next.

Associate Professor Peter Brodeur, director of the Division of Medical Education, notes that digital images are limited in what they can convey, whereas the cadaver teaches students “what the textures are and the spatial relationships among structures.”

More Space on the Third Floor

The improvements to the anatomy lab will include an expansion of the space, from 16 square feet per student to 30 square feet per student, consistent with the recommended anatomy lab standard of between 25 and 40 feet. And instead of six students per dissection table, there will be five. The ventilation and lighting systems will be state-of-the-art, and with the new location on the third floor, anatomy students will be able to work in natural light. A new adjacent classroom that can hold 60 students will provide space for small-group learning to supplement the regular coursework.

“One of the best aspects of this gift is that it will allow us to modernize one of our oldest buildings on campus, the M&V building,” said Harris Berman, dean of the School of Medicine. A former garment factory, the M&V, now called the Biomedical Research and Public Health Building, has been used for myriad purposes since the university acquired it in 1946. The dental school was housed there before the opening of One Kneeland Street in 1973.

An essential component of the modernization are the technology upgrades, which are so significant that Willson said they provide faculty members with “a great opportunity to change the way we teach.” For example, computer screens will be installed to supply online learning materials, perhaps in the form of videos made by Tufts faculty and aimed at providing more focus to the day’s assignments. The new technology will also allow for better integration of advances in medical imaging, including X-rays, CAT scans and MRI.

Of course, some of the improvements in the new lab will be on a more intimate scale. For the past 50 years, in keeping with the Tufts spirit of improvisation, male and female students have had to change out of their regular clothes into scrubs in a crowded hallway. The new lab will include designated changing areas and locker rooms.

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