Julius Ogeng’o PhD, MD
The research project aspect of cadaver dissection has been relatively undermined because the debate surrounding use of cadavers has focused almost exclusively on the pedagogic role of cadaver dissection in medical education (Guttmann et al., 2004). Historically, the first use of Human cadavers for anatomical research occurred in the 4th century BC when Herophilus and Erasitratus gained permission to perform human dissection on executed criminals in Alexandria. In 1543, Andreas Vesalius, the father of modern Anatomy, published a series of detailed images of dissected corpses. Subsequently, in most parts of the world, human dissection was prohibited. In England, for example, however, the murder act of 1752 allowed for the bodies of executed murders to be dissected for Anatomical Research and Education. Today, many acts that permit use of cadavers for Medical Education and Research. Indeed, Research in Gross Anatomy is mainly based on cadaver dissection (Rokade and Bahetee, 2013).

Human cadavers are also used in injury biomechanics research. They, for example, enable Biomechanical Engineers and designers to develop effective injury counter measures for motor vehicle occupants and pedestrians involved in crashes. Accordingly they provide a critical and necessary component in the continued quest to reduce crash related injuries in fatalities. Many lives are saved and injuries prevented for each cadaver used in the development and validation of safety improvements (King et al., 1995; Crandall et al., 2011).

Despite advances in technology, cadaver dissection still remains valuable in revealing anatomical detail. The most dramatic illustration of this is the recent description of detailed characteristics of anterolateral ligament of the human knee, through cadaveric dissection (Claes et al., 2013). This ligament, first postulated in 1879, had remained enigmatic. The clarity with which the ligament was demonstrated prompted the Anatomical Society to describe the research as “very refreshing. The researchers’ have reminded the world that despite the emergence of advanced technology, our knowledge of the human body is not yet exhaustive”.

The current issue of Anatomy Journal of Africa contains several articles based on cadaveric dissection, which continue to advocate the value of this practice in contributing knowledge to improve medical practice. The description of variant testicular arteries by Misiani et al., is invaluable during surgery in the retroperitoneal space, as it may be associated with several other anomalies (Jyosthna et al., 2012). Quadrifurcation and pentafurcation of common carotid artery reported by Ogengo’o et al., will definitely influence approach to neck surgery (Dimov, 2013). The account by osabutey on the celiac and testicular arteries draws attention to variations that may influence the presentation, diagnosis and management of celiac artery compression syndrome (Chou et al., 2012). Additional heads of gastrocnemius elaborated by Ashaolu et al., are important for diagnosis and management of popliteal neurovascular entrapment syndrome (Srinivasa et al., 2013).

Doctors and Anatomists are encouraged to document and report unusual observations from cadaver dissection.

“Without anatomical understanding of the human body that is afforded by dissection, much of
modern medicine would simply not exist” Joel Howell – Professor of History and Internal Medicine, University of Michigan


  1. Chou JW, Lin C M, Feng CL, Ting CF, Cheng KS, Chen YF. 2012. Celiac artery compression syndrome: An experience in a single institution in Taiwan. Gastroenterol Res Pract article ID 935721.
  2. Claes S, Vereecke E, Maes M, Victor J, Verdon P, Bellemans J. 2013. Anatomy of the anterolateral ligament of the knee. J Anat 223: 321 – 328.
  3. Cornwall J, Stringer MD. 2009. The wider importance of cadavers: educational and research diversity from a body bequest program. Anat Sci Educ 2: 234 – 237.
  4. Crandall JR, Rose D, Forman J, Untaroiu CD, Arrequi – Dalmases C, Shaw CG, Kerrigan JR. 2011. Human surrogates for injury biomechanics research. Clin Anat 24: 362 – 371.
  5. Dimov RS. 2013. The effect of neck dissection on quality of life of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer. Gland surgery 2: 219 – 226.
  6. Guttman GD, Drake RL, Trelease RB. 2004. To what extent is cadaver dissection necessary to learn medical Gross Anatomy? Anat Rec (Part B: New Anat) 2813: 2 – 3.
  7. Jyothsna P, Rao KGM, Somayaji SN, Ashwini LS. 2012. Multiple vascular anomalies involving testicular, suprarenal arteries and lumbar veins. N Am J Med Sci 4: 154 – 156.
  8. King AI, Viano DC, Mizeres N, States JD. 1995. Humanitarian benefits of cadaver research on injury prevention. J Trauma 38: 564 – 569.
  9. Rokade SA,Bahetee BH. 2013. Body donation: A review. Med J West India 41: 36 – 41.
  10. Srinivasa RS, Bhagath KP, Satheesha NB, Kumar MRB. 2013. Popliteal vessels entrapment by a variant accessory belly of medial Head of Gastrocnemius. Anat Physiol 3:1.
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