For once, children can squish blisters and scrape scabs without hearing their mothers yell, “Stop picking at that!”
The once-forbidden poking and prodding wasn’t on their own scabby knees but instead on a six-foot long replica of a hand, one of many new exhibits unveiled Saturday as part of the Human Body Gallery at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
A partnership between the museum and University doctors and researchers, the gallery was designed to educate both children and adults about preventive health issues, adult stem cell research and general knowledge about the human body.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen it all together, and I’m very impressed with what they have done,” said Dr. Jose Jessurun, a University pathology professor involved with the exhibition. He said both the gallery and the partnership were evolving and would include more exhibits and presentations for all ages.
While kids marveled at a fake artery swinging above their heads with “blood” pumping through, adults learned about the University’s Bioartificial Liver project.
The artificial liver stands about four and a half feet tall, and under its hood lies a complicated mass of tubes, valves and pumps. But the real heart of the machine exists in its fiber cartridges.
The cartridge is a round tube stuffed with hollow fibers containing cells from pig livers. The patient’s blood runs through the cartridge where the pig liver cells break down toxins. The purified blood is then pumped back into the patient.
While no human clinical trials have been conducted, the machine could allow people with liver disease to live until a donor liver becomes available.
Not far away, Dr. Morayma Reyes showcased the recent research by the University’s Stem Cell Institute on adult stem cells.
Published in the Nov. 1 edition of the scientific journal Blood, the researchers learned how stem cells from the bone marrow of adults could be made to grow into other cells, such as muscle or brain cells.
Pam Lai, a graduate student in the University’s department of chemical engineering, said the study is an important first step in learning how to use adult stem cells, a less controversial alternative to embryonic stem cells.
Back in the gallery full of high-tech, interactive stations, one of the most popular exhibits was a table with healthy and cancerous organs sealed in plastic bags.
Six year-old Anna Jessurun and her friend Emily Fellows squished the lungs, colons and prostates as Anna’s father, Dr. Jessurun, watched.
“I like this because it’s purple,” said Emily as she pounded on a brightly hued example of a healthy ovary.
Then her friend’s father told the girls the plastic bag contained real organs removed from the bodies of dead and sick patients.
“Yeeeeach!” Emily said, continuing to play with the organ.