VOLUME 33, NUMBER 25 THURSDAY, April 18, 2002

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Ray Dannenhoffer is assistant dean for support services in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He directs the Gross Anatomy Lab and the Anatomical Gift Program.

What is the Gross Anatomy Laboratory? Who uses it?
The lab is located on the third floor of the Biomedical Education Building. It is a facility used to instruct medical, dental, graduate, occupational therapy, physical therapy, exercise science and nursing students in the anatomical structure of the human body. It also is used extensively by practitioners in all health-care fields for training in clinical procedures and by researchers who are conducting research projects that require the use of human anatomical material.

Isn't dissection a "hands-on" skill? The lab is equipped with computer terminals—what are they used for?
Yes, anatomical instruction and dissection are very much "hands on." Although there have been many attempts over the years to find a suitable replacement for the instructional experience that occurs in a dissection lab, none have been successful. The computer terminals are there to expand the learning experience. We offer access to reference materials and interactive teaching materials that only are available via computer. An example of this would be a piece of software we created that allows the students to watch the changes in the organization, size, shape and structure of the gut as embryological development occurs. Since this is a three-dimensional, active process, it is a difficult concept for students to master. We used to spend hours in the lab with a model made of stocking nylon, wood and rubber tubing to demonstrate what was occurring. Now, the students can work through the concept at their own pace on the computer screen.

What is the Anatomical Gift Program?
The Anatomical Gift Program is the method through which the people of Western New York may make a donation of their bodies for use in teaching and research. Under the Uniform Donation Act, the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences is authorized to accept such donations. The school is the only institution in Western New York that may accept such donations. We are charged with the responsibility to make sure that all donations are legally executed. Other institutions that may want to use anatomical materials must acquire those materials either through our program or similar programs at other medical schools throughout the state. You can find more information at http://wings.buffalo.edu/smbs/ana/agp or by calling 829-2913 and speaking to Debbie Murrello

Who may make a donation?
The majority of our donations—almost 99 percent—are made by individuals during their life. Anyone who is of legal age can make a donation of their body. After an individual passes away, his or her next of kin may choose to donate. This university will accept donations made prior to an individual's death without any restrictions. We occasionally will receive a call from a relative who tells us, "My (relative) always told me they wanted to donate their body to science, but they never got around to it. Is there a way I can honor their last wish?" In such a case, if the entire family agrees, we will consider the request. Currently, our program has approximately 8,500 individuals who have pledged their bodies to us at the time of their death. For the past several years, that has meant we have received about 225 donations annually. This year, we have received 90 donations to date, which puts on a pace to receive 350 donations this year.

What happens to the remains?
All the individuals who make donations to our program also agree to have their remains cremated. We do that in a facility located within the anatomy lab. The cremains may be returned to the family of the individual who made the donation, or they may be interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in consecrated ground. Finally they may be interred in the Skinnersville Cemetery on the North Campus, where the university has a series of gravesites.

Tell me about the memorial service.
Actually there are two types of memorial services. The one you are probably referring to occurs about every 18 months. These services are held at Skinnersville Cemetery and are coordinated with the interment of the cremains of those individual who directed we place their ashes in the "university cemetery." We invite the families and friends of all the individuals whose ashes are being interred. This service usually is attended by more than 300 people and is officiated by the campus ministers. It includes readings from scripture, remembrances from students who benefited from the generous donations made by the individuals being interred, and comments by family and friends. Another memorial service is held every year. At the conclusion of the fall Gross Anatomy Course, students organize a memorial service. This service, which is attended by almost the entire first-year class, is held to commemorate and give thanks for the generous gift of knowledge given to the students by the anonymous individual the students have just spent the semester learning from.

You're a very diverse individual—you have a doctorate in anthropology and you direct the Office of Medical Computing as well as the anatomy lab and gift program. How does it all relate?
I like to think it all relates because of the broad education I was lucky enough to receive. When I entered college, I expected to graduate with a degree in biology. When I took a course in physical anthropology to fill my schedule, I found what I really loved. In graduate school, my advisor insisted I take gross anatomy, not only to acquire an understanding of the physical structure of humans, but so that I would be able to teach it. I spent a lot of time working in a primate anatomy lab as a way to fund my education. That gave me the anatomy background. In order to conduct the research I wanted to do for my doctorate, I had to use the power of computers. This occurred at the exact time PCs were introduced, and so just like falling into anthropology, I fell into the beginnings of the personal computer revolution. I was an early adopter of the technology; in fact, I built my first computer from a kit and have never looked back. Today, I tell people you learn as much at college as you do in college, and I think in my case that is certainly true.

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