This week, we first-years at IMS-Milan went for our first field practical, to learn how to stain slides for clinical observation. Our professor took us to the university’s Department of Anatomy. What we found was a hundred years’ worth of very cool equipment for teaching anatomy.
I have been trying to trace the building’s history, without success. It probably dates back to somewhere around the turn of the 20th century, when the University of Milan’s sister institution, the Milan Polytechnic, was being built. [Note to people considering applying to IMS: when you are learning about the school, look into Milan Polytechnic as well as the University of Milan. The two schools cooperate so tightly as to be almost effectively one institution, although they fall under different administrations. A lot of the researchers at the University of Milan do joint work within the Polytechnic.]
The Department of Anatomy has an old cadaver teaching room. The tables are arranged in a circle, so that a professor could observe while students, in teams, examined bodies. Student observation of pathological examination of cadavers has now moved to the modern hospital complex. This room, meanwhile, has turned into a sort of playroom for anatomical models. Ceramic skeletons, muscular systems, torsos, limbs, and so forth, are all available for students to pull apart and put back together, to get a three-dimensional, hands-on experience of the human body.
Lining the walls of the anatomy department are cabinets with models of hands, hearts, brains, eyes, skulls — you name it — pretty much every part of the human body recreated for students to examine. The collection appears to have been assembled over decades.
Stone plaques with people’s faces and biographies are all over Italy, and the Department of Anatomy is not lacking for one. This is Dr. Pino Rando, former head of the neurocytology lab in Milan. He helped to originally describe the structure of the neuron.
Our professor then took us to her lab and showed us a heart and kidney of a pig.
The pig heart and kidney were stored in… an olive jar. What else? This is Italy.
Inside the lab, another jar holds part of a human brain.
We then went on to learn how to perform hematoxylin and eosin staining, one of the most important techniques in preparing cells for viewing under a microscope to look for disease. Here is the workbench.
This was just our first foray into anatomical and histological labwork. Over the course of the spring, we have a number of different practical sessions scheduled, including, at the hospital, watching pathology surgery.
Erik Campano is a consultant to the English medical school of the University of Turin and doing a Master's degree studying artificial intelligence applications in global health at the University of Umeå, Sweden. He completed his Bachelor’s of science in Symbolic Systems at Stanford University, and then he worked for about eight years as a radio news anchor, before moving to biomedical scientific study and research at the University of Paris and Columbia University. His goal is to develop AI technologies for international emergency humanitarian aid organizations like Doctors without Borders, and to combine medicine and journalism. Erik grew up in Connecticut, and is a citizen of the United States and Germany.
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