National Yang-Ming University Medical School and two partner institutions on Thursday launched a surgical training course that uses 14 human heads for dissection.
Heads from human bodies are invaluable to train brain surgeons and those used in the course were imported from the US, program chief Sanford Hsu (許秉權) said.
Hsu, who is a professor of medicine at the university and a practicing neurosurgeon at Taipei Veterans General Hospital, said that the program is a collaboration between the university, the hospital and Aesculap Academy Taiwan.
Heads had to be imported from the US because the availability of cadavers for dissection is low in Taiwan and heads are even rarer, Hsu said.
Due to cultural reasons, most Taiwanese would not donate their bodies or organs for medical purposes, let alone allow their bodies to be decapitated for medical training, Hsu said.
Most Taiwanese medical students do not receive hands-on training through cadaver dissection or neuroanatomy until the third and fifth year of their programs, respectively, Hsu said.
Very few students studying to be surgeons have ever had the opportunity to use a human head as a dissection subject, he added.
Yet brain surgery requires a high level of technical skill and the ability to act in crisis situations, competencies that are best obtained through practice, he said.
Surgical procedures involving aneurisms and tumors near the cranial base are among the most dangerous and demanding for neurosurgeons, but simulating blood flow and tumors is difficult on a cadaver whose head is still attached to the torso, he said.
For these reasons, the program has to rely on imports of cadaver subjects from “more progressively minded Western countries,” he said, adding that Taiwan’s regulatory environment at least enables the importation of heads for medical research, which is a virtual impossibility in China and Japan.
“Reasonable” local laws, rigorous inspections of imported cadavers for disease and verification of their identity is a boon for training neurosurgeons, orthopedists and otolaryngologists, he said.
The program provides training for 22 medical students and some of the foreign instructors are the best surgeons in their field globally, he said.
The service life of a head as a dissection subject is about a year and heads that are no longer suited for the purpose are to be cremated in Taiwan, he said.
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