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Camp Neuro: The STEM Summer Camp Everyone's Talking About

Posted by Courtney Smith on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 @ 03:00 PM

At my high school, Anatomy & Physiology was one of the hardest courses to pass. It was also the hardest course to join because of the sheer number of students who wanted to take it. If there had been a summer program geared toward A&P, the waiting list to get in would have been endless. But, like the after-school astronomy club I tried (and failed) to start, nothing of the sort was offered.

But that was over 10 years ago. School programs are changing. The internet has opened a myriad of doors and has helped people to connect and be vocal about various shared interests. Thanks to the power of the web, a new program is working its way up the ranks.

Camp Neuro is a week-long STEM summer camp run by local medical students and has cropped up in 18 cities nationwide over the last two years. Their mission is to give high school students interested in medicine or psychology an introduction to those fields, with a focus on the care and maintenance of the brain.

When you think “summer camp,” you no doubt jump to the image of kids throwing themselves into lakes and roasting marshmallows over a fire. Not at Camp Neuro, where by 9 a.m. the campers are wrist-deep in a pig brain or learning how to tie surgical knots.

Camp Neuro students in a workshop with medical professionals.
In the middle of a workshop. (Camp Neuro, Dallas–Ft. Worth, TX, 2015)

My sister works in the field of pediatric neurology, and if she ever found out about this she’d flip. She would’ve killed for something like this when she was in school.

Each day is filled with workshops, interesting A&P lectures, exercise, and special guest speakers from different fields—all of which give the campers a taste of real-world medicine careers, ranging from physical therapy to neurosurgery. A typical day looks something like this:

A typical day at Camp Neuro

We were able to talk with Sohail Kamrudin, a second-year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, who was the Medical Student Director of Camp Neuro during its run in Dallas–Fort Worth this past July. He and his fellow team members used Visible Body’s brain model as a visual reference for the campers during lectures.

Cross-section of the human brain within the context of the skull

A cross-section of the brain (from Human Anatomy Atlas)

“Your app provided a great learning experience for our attendees,” Kamrudin said. “Seeing the brain from different angles really helped our campers understand it. We ended up building a brain from the brainstem up.”

Camp Neuro isn’t alone in its venture to invigorate enthusiasm for medicine and health. Its sister camp, Camp Cardiac, introduces the basics of cardiology to its campers through hands-on workshops and interaction with professionals. As of right now, there isn’t a Camp Respiratory or Camp Lymph, but who’s to say that won’t change, especially when you see testimonials like this:

“I LOVED my week at Camp Neuro. My only complaint is that it went by too quickly! :-) I learned so much, and made a lot of friends! I’m planning to apply to Camp Cardiac next summer!”
S.T. — Pasadena, CA

“My son said it was his best camp ever! I am blown away by how much they covered in only 1 week. He loved everything but his favorite part was the brain dissection. He also loved the counselors, as they were so positive and fun. Thank you so much for putting together such an amazing program for young people.”
P.L. — Silver Spring, MD

“Our son truly had an amazing time at Camp Neuro. The camp ended a couple of weeks ago and he’s still talking about experience. He is now seriously considering becoming a doctor. Thanks so much for everything!”
R.H. — New York, NY

So here’s to Camp Neuro and Camp Cardiac, paving the way for our future medical practitioners and educators, one pig dissection at a time.

Students of Camp Neuro, Dallas–Ft. Worth, TX, 2015
The medical professionals of the future. (Camp Neuro, Dallas–Ft. Worth, TX, 2015)


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Read further.

- Anatomy and Physiology: 5 Things about the Integumentary System
- Anatomy and Physiology: The Limbic System
- Anatomy and Physiology: 5 Cool Facts about the Middle and Inner Ear

Topics: teach kids anatomy

Learn Muscle Anatomy: Of Dads and Rotator Cuff Injuries

Posted by Courtney Smith on Wed, Jul 29, 2015 @ 11:04 AM

If my dad tells me about the hockey game that led to him tearing his rotator cuff one more time, I’m going to tear the rest of his arm off and beat him with it. I’d rather he’d relive his glory days a little less and focus more on being seen by a doctor for his rotator cuff issues. But because he never got adequate help with his rotator cuff tear when he was younger, I’m doomed to a lifetime of watching His Stubborness wince every time he scratches the back of his head.

Dads. Am I right?

What is the rotator cuff, though, and why does an injury to it have such an impact? Read on! If you’re my dad, read on and then please go see your doctor.


The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles keep the top of the upper arm in the shoulder socket by forming a "cuff" that not only holds the arm in place but helps it move in various directions.

The rotator cuff muscles hold the ball at the top of the humerus firmly in the glenoid fossa. The rotator cuff muscles are the supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and teres minor.







Subscapular fossa

Lesser tubercle
of the humerus

Medial rotation of the head of the humerus; prevents anterior displacement of the humerus


All of the supraspinatus fossa

Greater tubercle
of the humerus

Assists the deltoid in abducting the arm; stabilizes the glenohumeral joint


Infraspinatus fossa on the posterior surface of the scapula

Greater tubercle
of the humerus

Laterally rotates the upper limb; stabilizes the glenohumeral joint

Teres minor

Lateral border of the scapula

Greater tuberosity
of the humerus

Lateral (external) rotation of the humerus; helps protect and stabilize the shoulder joint


Rotator Cuff Injury

When my dad was in high school, he played on our hometown hockey team and ended up… in a fight? In a dogpile? A ninja battle? I don’t know, I feel like the story’s changed over the years. Regardless, he tore his rotator cuff while tending goal and, thanks to our family’s particular strain of stubbornness, never got it properly checked out. It’s been plaguing him ever since.


Tears are typically categorized in two ways: if they have partial thickness or full thickness, and if the tears are traumatic or degenerative. Gradual degeneration, like repetitive overheard motion of the shoulder (think of baseball pitchers), or sudden traumatic events (my dad at hockey) can tear one of the muscle tendons of the rotator cuff. It’s usually a torn supraspinatus that ends up causing the bulk of the issues.

Rotator cuff tears usually occur at the insertion point on the head of the humerus so that the tendon will no longer fully attach to the bone. Want to see it in all its gruesome action? You’re in luck! We’ve got a super short animation about it:



Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include pain, decreased range of motion in the shoulder, and muscle weakness.

Treating a rotator cuff injury can range from easy (physical therapy being the most common) to invasive (surgery). I’ve been hounding my dad to have surgery on his shoulder for years, but he hasn’t budged yet. I’m not sure what he’s waiting for.

There are several types of surgery to treat the rotator cuff, including open tendon repair – in which a surgeon reattaches the tendon to the bone – and shoulder replacement – in which a surgeon installs the ball part of the artificial joint onto the shoulder blade and the socket part onto the arm bone (but this is reserved for only the most massive rotator cuff injuries coughdadcough).

Minor rotator cuff injuries will heal on their own with plenty of ice, rest, and daily shoulder exercises. If you do end up suffering a more involved injury, do literally the opposite of my dad and have it evaluated by a doctor. It may be one less story to tell at family gatherings, but you’ll be saving yourself a lifetime of pain.



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Topics: learn muscle anatomy

A Stroke Is No Joke: Always Act FAST

Posted by Courtney Smith on Wed, Jul 08, 2015 @ 03:22 PM

I’m about to get a bit personal here, so hold onto your butts.

When I was 14, my friend took me to her aunt’s house so we could swim in her pool. Her aunt was always so cool—super funny and smart, with elegant streaks of gray in her long hair—and I was happy to go. We swam for a while until her aunt called us in to help make lunch. My friend wanted melon balls to go with our salads and sandwiches, so we spent about 10 minutes mechanically scooping out little pink globules into porcelain dishes.

Then, my friend’s aunt paused. I’ll never forget the sound she made, a little boof of confusion, the noise a dog makes when it’s not committed to growling but musters up the effort. She frowned at the half-filled dish in front of her. From across the counter, I watched—horrified, rapt—as one side of her face kind of … melted. The hand holding the melon scoop twitched, as if she meant to lift it, and she began to mumble things I couldn’t understand. My friend immediately went to her side and helped her to the floor as she began to fall, and I called 9-1-1.

As the EMTs loaded my friend’s aunt into the ambulance, one of them came over and helped my friend call her mom. The EMT spoke to her mother and said calmly, “It was a stroke, ma’am. We’re taking her to Whidden Hospital; your daughter and her friend are going to ride with us. Can you meet us there?”

It was honestly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life up to that point; I can’t imagine what my friend’s aunt was feeling.

Pardon the rhyme, but a stroke is no joke. But what is a stroke, and why is it so important to act FAST when one occurs? Keep reading to find out.



While her aunt recovered, my friend would tell our curious and sympathetic classmates, “My aunt had a stroke.” And immediately that would shut them up. It was as if the stark, one-syllable word were an expletive, a harbinger whose wrath no one wanted to incur.

The thing is, there are different types of stroke, and those different types have different causes. They happen for a variety of reasons and they’re associated with as many risk factors.

Ischemic Stroke

My friend’s aunt had an ischemic stroke, which is the most common kind—in fact, 85% of strokes are ischemic. An ischemic stroke is caused when the blood supply to the brain is reduced (also called “ischemia”). Reduced blood flow to the brain causes cell death, which is as bad as it sounds.


The most common types:

  • Thrombotic ischemic stroke: A blood clot, or thrombus, forms in one of the brain arteries due to a build-up of plaque or other vascular conditions, and blocks the artery. This blockage causes reduced blood flow to the brain.
  • Embolic ischemic stroke: A blood clot forms elsewhere in the body (like the heart) and travels to the arteries of the brain, where it becomes lodged in a narrow vessel. This type of clot is called an embolus.

There is also something called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a bit like a mini stroke. A blood clot forms and blocks an artery like in an ischemic stroke, but the blockage is temporary. Before the clot is able to move, it briefly reduces the blood supply to the brain. The symptoms of a TIA and a full ischemic stroke are similar, but brief, but a TIA greatly increases a person’s risk for a full-blown stroke.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

On the other side of the stroke spectrum are hemorrhagic strokes, in which a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or leaks. This can happen for a bunch of reasons, including hypertension, overmedicating with anticoagulants, and aneurysms.


There are two types:

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhagic stroke: A vessel in the brain bursts, causing blood to leak into the space between the brain and skull. When this occurs, it’s usually followed by an immediate, unbearable headache.
  • Intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke: A vessel in the brain bursts and spills blood into the brain tissue, causing cell damage or death.


I mentioned above that there are many contributing factors to stroke. Well, I wasn’t kidding. Risk factors associated with stroke range from family history, lifestyle, and present medical conditions.

Obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, and drug use are all treatable risks for stroke. Conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease all contribute to stroke risk.

Those with a family history of stroke or heart attack are more likely to suffer a stroke than those without. Age and gender also play a part. People over the age of 55 have a higher risk. Men tend to suffer strokes more than women, but women—particularly older women—tend to die from them more than men.

Suffering a stroke can cause long-lasting, even permanent complications. Luckily, my friend’s aunt was able to get away with nothing more than memory loss of the incident, but others don’t come away from it so easily.

As I said, memory loss is one complication, but more severe ones include paralysis, pain or numbness, aphasia (or difficulty with speaking or understanding speech), and changes in behavior.



I remember seeing a poster about “Acting F. A. S. T.” in the hospital room my friend’s aunt recovered in, and since then I’ve never forgotten it. F. A. S. T. is an acronym for the warning signs of a stroke—I highly recommend you learn it.

Face drooping: During a stroke, the face can go numb or even droop. The person may have difficulty smiling or his or her smile may be uneven.

Arm weakness: One arm may go weak or numb. In this case, ask the person to lift both arms. If one arm drifts downward beyond his or her control it could be a sign of stroke.

Speech difficulty: A person suffering a stroke may slur words or be hard to understand. Ask the person to say a simple sentence, like, “The birds are singing.” If he or she can’t, it may be a sign of stroke.

Time to call 9-1-1: If you suspect someone is suffering a stroke, you need to call 9-1-1 right away, even if the symptoms disappear. Remember, a TIA’s symptoms are temporary; if someone suffers a TIA, their risk for a full-blown stroke increases exponentially.


 F.A.S.T. poster, courtesy of the American Stroke Association

For those of you wondering, my friend’s aunt made a full recovery. She still has no memory of the event, but that’s okay: I remember it enough for the both of us.

A stroke is no joke. If you suspect someone is having one, remember to act FAST (emphasis on the T).



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Topics: anatomy and physiology

Serious as a Heart Attack: 7 Facts about Cardiovascular Disease

Posted by Courtney Smith on Fri, May 22, 2015 @ 02:47 PM

When you see a heart attack in a movie or TV show, it’s usually a dramatic event—clawed hands clutching a chest, groaning, and then a twisting fall to the floor. Which… well. Take that with a grain of salt. A heart attack is caused by a blockage, usually a build-up of plaque, in an artery that prevents blood flow and oxygen from reaching the heart. The longer the heart doesn't receive blood, the greater the damage to it. In many cases, people don’t even know they’re having a heart attack.

But despite what Hollywood tells you, a heart attack doesn’t exist in a vacuum—it’s the result of a bigger problem: heart disease. Even with a large presence in our society, not many people know the cold hard facts about heart disease, so I'm here to lay them down for you.



7 Facts about Cardiovascular Disease


1. Many people might think cancer is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, but it in fact is number two, right behind heart disease. Heart disease is the cause of 611,000 deaths every year in the United States—that's 1 in every 4 deaths.


2. More than 735,000 people suffer a myocardial infarction (MI)—that’s the official name of for heart attack—every year in the United States. Of those people, 15% (110,250) of them will die from it.


3. Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a heart attack.


4. While most people know that chest pain is a sign of a heart attack (thanks, Hollywood), it's not the only one. Shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and pain or discomfort in the back, jaw, neck, and arms are all possible indicators of MI.


5. It's a no-brainer that high cholesterol and blood pressure are contributing factors to heart disease, but additional factors include smoking, diabetes, and not getting enough exercise.


6. Since 1984, more women than men have died from heart disease, but only 1 in 5 women knows that heart disease is the greatest threat to her health. 38% of women die within a year of having a heart attack as compared to 19% of men.


7. According to the World Health Organization, childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Obese children are at a significant risk for heart disease in their adult lives, as well as diabetes, atherosclerosis (build-up of fats and cholesterol in the artery walls), and high blood pressure.


Don’t let heart disease be the thing that does you in, my dear readers. Go out in a blaze of glory, maybe in an incident involving a jet pack or a giraffe herd. Take care of yourselves—I want y’all around for a long time!

Like what you read in this blog? Then go a step further:

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-   Know the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack. (2015, April 30). Retrieved May 22, 2015, from CDC.gov

-  Leading Causes of Death. (2015, February 6). Retrieved May 22, 2015, from CDC.gov

Childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease.Tracey Bridger. Paediatr Child Health. 2009 March; 14(3): 177–182.

Heart Disease Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2015, from The Heart Foundation

Facts about Heart Disease in Women. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2015, from Illinois Department of Public Health

Topics: learn heart anatomy

The Lymphatic System: Innate and Adaptive Immunity

Posted by Professor Blythe Nilson on Mon, May 11, 2015 @ 02:20 PM

Today’s post is coming all the way from Canada’s western-most province. Blythe Nilson, Associate Professor in the Biology Department at the University of British Columbia—Okanagan campus, is about to school y’all in the lymphatic system. So pop some vitamin C, kick back, and read on.

Take it away, Professor!


The Lymphatic System

First, let’s quickly review the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system carries out the body’s immune responses by producing and distributing cells, such as lymphocytes and macrophages, that combat disease.

Lymph vessels, or lymphatics, drain fluid from all parts of the body and return it to the heart. They begin as narrow blind-ended vessels in tissues then merge with others as they travel toward the vena cavae, where they return the lymph into the circulatory system. Unlike the blood vessels, lymphatics are one-way.


The spleen is a soft, delicate organ that filters blood for pathogens, debris, or worn-out cells. The spleen is made up of compartments called follicles that are filled with lymphocytes and macrophages that can mount an immune response quickly if antigens are detected. The spleen destroys and recycles about 200 billion worn-out red blood cells every day.


The thymus is a soft, bilobed organ that lies between the heart and the sternum. It’s larger in young people because developing T-lymphocytes spend time there as they mature. Only competent T-cells are allowed to leave the thymus, which destroys any faulty ones. After puberty, the thymus is no longer needed; it atrophies and the lymphatic tissue is replaced by fatty tissue.

Lymph nodes are small, roundish organs that form along lymph vessels. As lymph passes from a lymph vessel through a node it slows down and percolates through millions of lymphocytes and macrophages. If a pathogen is detected the immune cells will multiply, causing the lymph node to swell.



Innate Immunity

As you may know, the body has several structures that serve as protective barriers against infection. These include the skin, respiratory and digestive tract mucous membranes, and other structures.

The term immunity refers to the many structures and responses the human body has for preventing pathogens from entering the body and for fighting them off if they do get in.

Immunity can be broadly divided into two categories: innate immunity and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is the body’s general response to invading pathogens—it’s the same in everyone and reacts the same way each time. Essentially, we are born with innate immunity all ready to go.

Innate immunity includes physical barriers, such as the skin, and chemical responses, such as antimicrobials found in tears. It also includes physiological responses, such as fever and inflammation. These processes stimulate immune cells to take action, hinder pathogen growth, and prepare damaged tissues for repair. Specialized cells, like macrophages, can kill and digest bacteria and parasites, as well as secrete cytokines that can induce inflammation and mobilize other parts of the immune system.


An inflammatory response causes blood vessels to dilate, bringing more blood to the site and causing localized heat. The vessels also become leaky, allowing fluid and immune cells to leave the bloodstream and enter the infected tissue. The cardinal signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, and heat, and often there is pain and loss of function.


Adaptive Immunity

Now let’s have a look at the other arm of the immune system: adaptive immunity.

Adaptive immunity is the body’s way of mounting an immune response that is specific for each pathogen. B- and T-lymphocytes, or B- and T-cells are central to adaptive immunity. They are able to recognize each kind of invading pathogen and respond with a large, focused response tailored to that specific invader. What’s more, each time a new pathogen is found, the lymphocytes that recognized it will multiply and remain in your body so that if that pathogen ever returns, your immune response will be swift and massive.


Antibody-mediated immunity is triggered when  your B-cells recognize a pathogen. Of the trillions of B-cells in your body there are some with receptors specialized to recognize every pathogen you are likely to encounter. When a subset of B-cells is activated they produce antibodies, specialized proteins that are released into blood and tissues where they bind to pathogens, marking them for destruction by macrophages and other immune cells.

Cell-mediated immunity is carried out by T-cells when they recognize pathogens living inside your cells. Infected body cells display pieces of the pathogen on their surface that are recognized by T-cells. This activates the T-cells, causing them to recruit other cells of the immune system that will deal with the invaders, often by killing the infected cell!


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Special thanks to Professor Nilson for contributing to the Visible Body Blog!

Topics: anatomy and physiology

Anatomy & Physiology: The Limbic System's Major Three

Posted by Courtney Smith on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 @ 02:25 PM

What is your earliest memory?

Mine is the sound of my older brother Steve muttering, "I don't know why you're laughing, we're going to get in trouble," and the rush of sand as he helped me pour a bucketful over my head. We were at my Yiayia's house in her sun-soaked backyard, sitting in the little turtle sandbox that was missing an eye (courtesy of my cousin Billy, I would learn years later while going through pictures). The bed of wildflowers nearby kept catching on Steve's shirt and smelled earthy-sweet. While the adults lounged about on the back deck, toasting my mother for keeping her too-curious child alive long enough to see a second birthday, Steve helplessly held the now empty yellow bucket in his hand while I cackled triumphantly to myself.

Sometimes when I'm lounging in my Yiayia's backyard (now hanging with the adults), I'll smell the wildflowers and bam. Suddenly I'm two years old again with sand in my hair and so very proud of the fact.

Long-term memory is still a mystery in a lot of ways, but we do know that the limbic system has a hand in processing and consolidating it. That's not all the limbic system does, however, and we're going to take a look at the role three of its major components play in the brain.


A Functional Classification:
The Limbic System Is, Well, a System

When one speaks aloud about the limbic system, it sounds as though they consider it to be a single structure. That's simply not true. While there’s some debate in the scientific community about which structures are part of the limbic system, there's a unanimous agreement about three of them: the amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. In addition, there’s also the dentate gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, fornix, and other nuclei and septa.


The limbic system functions to facilitate memory storage and retrieval, establish emotional states, and link the conscious, intellectual functions of the cerebral cortex with the unconscious, autonomic functions of the brain stem.

While the sensory cortex, motor cortex, and association areas of the cerebral cortex allow you to perform certain tasks, the limbic system makes you want to do those tasks. It's your very own internal motivational speaker!


Amygdala: The (Not Actually) Missing Link

Amygdala is a fun thing to say, yes? Ah-meg-dala. It sounds like a city in Game of Thrones.

While small, the amygdala has the big job of acting as the link between a stimulus and how you react to that stimulus. By receiving processed information from the general senses (your eyes, your skin, your tongue, etc.), it’s able to mediate the proper emotional responses. For example, I'm allergic to chocolate, so smelling it invokes a response of disgust in me. For others, it would invoke a kinder response. In my friend's case, it would send her into a euphoria.


Output from the amygdala goes either to the hypothalamus or the prefrontal cortex. Output going to the hypothalamus influences visceral and somatic motor systems. Through these connections, an emotional response to something might make your hair stand on end, make your heart race, or even induce vomiting! Output going to the prefrontal cortex involves conscious responses, such as telling someone you love them or controlling your anger.  


Hippocampus: Memory Consolidator

Hippocampus sounds like something straight out of myth—which it is. In Greek mythology, the hippocamp(us) was a creature with the top half of a horse and the bottom half of a long, scaly eel or fish. Chances are, there was one swimming around the Great Lake at Hogwarts.

The actual anatomical structure is named for its resemblance to the curved tail of the seahorse-like creature. The hippocampus is found in the medial temporal lobe and consists mostly of gray matter. Not very pretty for a memory-forming center, all things considered.


Memories aren’t stored in the hippocampus, but rather cognitive and sensory experiences are organized into a unified, long-term memory. When you experience something, like touching something hot for the very first time, the hippocampus learns the sensory input in relation to the experience and then plays the memory back repeatedly to the cerebral cortex to form a long-term memory in a process called memory consolidation. Think of it as the hippocampus' way of teaching the cerebral cortex. Memory consolidation continues until a long-term memory is formed, which will be held in one of the various areas of the cortex (different memories are housed in different areas).


Cingulate Gyrus: The Limbic Big Boy

I love the cingulate gyri—they look like something Professor X would wear to help him look for new mutants. While it isn't known whether they can enhance one's telepathic ability to locate others with superhuman abilities, the cingulate gyri are known for other things that are just as cool (okay, maybe not).

Ever been so excited about something that your arms flail around, or so angry that your hands clench into fists? The cingulate gyrus, a large arch-shaped structure, plays a role in expressing emotions through gestures.


A gyrus is a convolution, or fold, in the brain that acts to increase surface area, which in turn increases the number of neurons, as well as gray matter. There are many gyri that interact with the limbic system and the brain as a whole. The precentral gyrus (posteriormost gyrus of the frontal lobe) contains the primary motor cortex and controls the precise movements of skeletal muscles. The postcentral gyrus (anteriormost gyrus of the parietal lobe) contains the primary somatosensory cortex and is responsible for spatial discrimination (recognizing the part of your body that’s being stimulated).


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Topics: anatomy and physiology

No dry-erase boards: An ER doctor discusses using our anatomy reference with his patients

Posted by Lori Levans on Mon, Mar 09, 2015 @ 11:16 AM

Meet Dr. Brennen Beatty. He’s an ER physician in Austin, TX.

In recent months, he’s changed the way he talks to patients about their diagnosis. The old way was to tell them what was going on and hope they understood what he was talking about. The new way? Show and tell them using Visible Body’s Human Anatomy Atlas, a visual anatomy reference.

When did you start using Human Anatomy Atlas?

I started using Visible Body’s Atlas on my iPhone just recently—and I’ve kicked myself for not using it earlier. I use Atlas to quickly help patients visualize and understand their diagnosis. This technology helps me improve patient experience, compliance with treatment plans, and my overall efficiency.

Do you find that most of your patients understand their own anatomy?

Not exactly. One out of five Americans are seen every year in the ER and the bulk of patients don’t understand their own anatomy and physiology. To help them understand, patients want to see something. We’re visual animals.

How do they react when you use Atlas?

When I show Atlas on my iPhone my patients become wide-eyed with understanding.


What did you do to help illustrate a point before using Atlas?

Previously I found myself constantly using the dry-erase board in the ER to draw crude anatomy. Or if there was a rolling laptop cart in the room, I’d Google an image. If a patient presented with vertigo and dizziness, for example, I’d call up a picture of the inner ear to explain that connection.


Your overall verdict?

With Atlas, I’m using modern, advanced technology to quickly help my patients visualize and understand their diagnosis. Plus, the learning curve is straight up; it’s easy to use.


Want to see how Dr. Beatty explains gallstones to a patient using Human Anatomy Atlas 7?



Topics: anatomy and physiology

Pregnant Pause: A look at ovulation, fertilization, and implantation

Posted by Courtney Smith on Wed, Feb 18, 2015 @ 01:09 PM

You know, I took a look back through all of the posts we've written over the last few years, and I noticed a glaring omission on our part. We've never once discussed pregnancy.

Part of the reason I think we've shied away from it is because everything else we talk about is equal opportunity—for the most part, everyone's body operates the same. It's only in the physiology of pregnancy and childbirth that we deviate from that. I am a firm believer, however, that knowledge can change the world, and so I think it's incredibly important that everyone—those who have the ability to have kids and those who don't—learn about pregnancy and how it changes the body.

Note: This blog post will be written using "perfect storm" circumstances. Remember: one can conceive pretty much at any time; biology isn't limited to certain weeks.

Weeks 1–2: Prime Time

When we talk about pregnancy, it's usually week to week. Seems annoyingly tedious, right? Wouldn't it be easier to keep track of things month to month? Nope!

Despite the fact that we refer to our pregnant friends and family as being "X months along," so many different things are happening week to week that there'd be far too much to fit into a monthly breakdown. In this "perfect" scenario, weeks 1 and 2 are counted even though one isn't pregnant. The first week starts on the last day of one's period.


A friend of mine once likened the body during ovulation (and the monthly cycle as a whole) to a very excited and unstable aunt. Picture it: she's painting the walls of the prospective nursery, setting up the crib, fixing decals of baby animals by the windows, and hanging a cloud mobile from the ceiling. She turns up the heat in the room and sometimes kicks the furniture a little when she gets too impatient.

Then, one of two things happens:

  1. The egg is fertilized! Huzzah! Our work is done.
  2. The egg wasn't fertilized. Well. It's time to burn the entire room to the ground.

Don't laugh. It's true. Periods are the worst.

Ovulation is the time during the cycle in which a mature egg is released from one of the ovaries and is sent down one of the fallopian tubes where it will wait to be fertilized. With the help of the hormone progesterone, the endometrium lining begins to thicken in preparation for fertilization—if the egg isn't fertilized, the lining is shed (a.k.a. burning the entire room to the ground).



You may be asking yourself, "What does that header even mean?" Well, I threw the famous Inception sound effect up there because “inception” rhymes with "conception," which is what we're going to be talking about. Inception has nothing to do with conception. Well, not really. Conception is a film that I'm writing starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and my ovaries.

Week 3 is when conception happens. If you're wondering how that works, you're probably not old enough to be reading this.

During weeks 3 and 4, fertilization and implantation occur. Somewhere, the aunt in the nursery is throwing a party and putting the matches away, because there's going to be a baby!

When you hear “fertilize,” your mind probably goes to fertilizer, which is used to aid in the growth of plants. Fertilizer adds nutrients to help a seed grow, creating an environment perfect for the seed.


Fertilization is somewhat similar. Imagine an egg cell, or oocyte, is a seed. On its own, it really doesn't do much. It has the potential for life. But along comes a sperm cell, or spermatocyte, which penetrates the egg, much like the nutrients needed to kick-start the growth of a flower. The fused egg and sperm cells become a unique cell called a zygote.

Over the course of about 30 hours, the sperm cell's nucleus will fuse with that of the egg cell, combining their respective genetic material. About five days after fertilization, the zygote will divide into more cells and move down the uterus and implant into the endometrium as a collection of hundreds of cells, called a blastocyst, that continues to divide into more cells.


Week 4: Seriously, Though—
Don't Make Any Plans for the Next 9 Months

All right! Our crazy aunt is super happy and everything seems to be going swimmingly thus far. The blastocyst has implanted into the endometrium and is dividing, so now what? Well, this week marks the start of the embryonic period.

During week 4, the blastocyst will continue to divide until the cells branch into two groups: the first group includes the earliest baby cells, which will develop into the fetus, while the other group forms an environment that will protect and nourish the fetus—some of these cells will eventually develop into the placenta. When the placenta begins to develop, it sends a signal to the brain and endocrine system to start producing HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is what pregnancy tests attempt to detect in blood (blood test) or urine (pee-on-a-stick test). When HCG is being produced, the body stops releasing eggs and the endometrium stays put.

However, the placenta isn't developed enough at this point to be the main provider of nutrients, so the blastocyst will be "fed" oxygen and other goodies by a microscopic circulatory system.

Stay tuned! We'll be tackling weeks 5–10 soon.


But don't stop there!

We've got an amazing new app coming soon, all about the anatomy & physiology of pregnancy! Be the first to know when it's available.

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Bedtime Stories: How this dad-daughter duo uses My Incredible Body

Posted by Lori Levans on Mon, Feb 09, 2015 @ 11:58 AM

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to answer questions that meet and maybe even exceed your kids’ curiosity factor. Why does this do that? As parents and educators, we want to be able to tell and even show kids the answers in a way that they can understand. Some concepts are harder than others.

Take human anatomy. It’s a huge area and can often be hard to explain. We’ve met one parent in particular who has a unique take on how he breaks down the information to his four-year-old daughter—often at bedtime!

Kevin C. Moore is a Hong Kong–based sports therapist. He is also the founder of Reembody, an online resource for education on human movement and biomechanics. He has been using Visible Body products like Muscle Premium and Skeleton Premium in both capacities for a long time and recently purchased our kids' anatomy app, My Incredible Body, for his daughter, SJ.

What prompted you to buy the app? Has your daughter been asking questions about how the body works?

SJ is four years old, exceedingly precocious, and very interested in the human body. I work as a sports therapist, so bones, muscles, and injuries are regular topics of casual conversation around our house.

What interests her in particular?

SJ is fascinated by the process of injury and healing; she’s quick to ask and comment anytime she sees that someone is hurt. She seems particularly interested in bones, but I suspect that this is because the skeleton, as a whole, resembles a person, making it easier for her to relate to.


Photo: Kevin and SJ

Can you describe a scenario of how you use the app with SJ?

We use My Incredible Body like we would one of SJ’s storybooks; it’s much less like a “lesson” and more like story time. We’ll cuddle up together and read/watch through it like we would read Beatrix Potter or one of her many dinosaur books.

How does she interact with My Incredible Body?

She typically does the tapping, though I’ll reach in and manipulate things that I want to show her, or that she’s having a hard time navigating. She asks questions, we make up narratives; there’s a lot of talking.

What does SJ enjoy most about the app?

The videos are a big hit—all of them. As she gets older I imagine the more interactive portions will become more and more interesting to her. At the moment, the animated hand closing and opening in grip is probably her favorite thing to explore. She’s tickled by the sound effects.

Do you feel that the design is helpful in promoting learning? How so?

The sound design, in particular, is really good. The music and sound effects go a long way to creating an immersive environment for her. There’s enough movement on the screen to keep her eyes attached, but not too much to be distracting.

What do you think is particularly effective?

I think it was a good choice to show the semi-transparent outline of a kiddo body over the skeleton portions; it gives a really clear idea of what we parents mean when we say “you have a skeleton inside you right now!”


What do you like best about the app?

The variety: so many different systems and so many different methods of interaction. Also, the touch-response lessons that come with each structure. Also, I’m still generally impressed with the modeling of the tissue structures, though that’s much more of interest to me than the kiddo, I think.

Would you recommend this app to teachers?

Are you kidding? Yes! Between the videos and the exploratory functions, it’s easy to make it into a story they can follow. They can chime in with experiences they’ve had with their own bodies, relating what they see to what they feel.

For your little anatomy explorers:

Every kid wants to know how and why things work. Help them learn how and why their own bodies work with My Incredible Body!

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Topics: teach kids anatomy

The Endocrine System: Hypothalamus and Pituitary

Posted by Courtney Smith on Fri, Jan 02, 2015 @ 03:31 PM

Are you hot right now? Cold? Maybe you're like Goldilocks and are just right. What about your height? Are you tall? Average? Short? Maybe your metabolism is lightning fast and you're always hungry, or maybe it's a bit slow and you stay full longer. All of these—regardless of which one you identify with—are regulated by the endocrine system.

What is the endocrine system? It's a network of glands throughout the body that regulate certain body functions, including body temperature, metabolism, growth, and sexual development. Though there are many glands, today we’ll focus on just two: the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.

Hypothalamus-pituitary-gland-brain-1(Hypothalamus and pituitary, highlighted in blue)

I'm going to be throwing a lot of information at you, dear reader, so brace yourself!

Hormone Reaction Regulation


It’s no secret your brain is one busy place—neurons move at incredible speeds, synapses are constantly firing, blood is pumping, and glands are producing hormones. These glands, specifically the hypothalamus and pituitary, are working all the time to keep your body running at optimal performance. Every hormone the endocrine system releases follows a basic set-up: a signal is received, hormones are secreted, and the target cell undergoes changes to its basic functions.


The almond-sized hypothalamus is located below the thalamus and sits just above the brainstem. All vertebrate brains have a hypothalamus. Its primary function is to maintain homeostasis (stability of the internal environment) in the body.


The hypothalamus links the nervous and endocrine systems by way of the pituitary gland. Its function is to secrete releasing hormones and inhibiting hormones that stimulate or inhibit (like their names imply) production of hormones in the anterior pituitary. Specialized neuron clusters called neurosecretory cells in the hypothalamus produce the hormones Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH) and Oxytocin (OXT), and transport them to the pituitary, where they're stored for later release.

Think of the hypothalamus as the pituitary's older sibling—it not only controls the actions of the pituitary but it secretes at least nine hormones to the pituitary's seven.

Pituitary Gland

Attached to the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland is a pea-sized, reddish-gray body that stores hormones from the hypothalamus and releases them into the bloodstream. The pituitary consists of an anterior lobe and a posterior lobe, each of which have distinct functions.


Pituitary: Anterior Lobe (Adenohypophysis)

The anterior lobe (or adenophyophosis) secretes hormones that regulate a wide variety of bodily functions. There are five anterior pituitary cells that secrete seven hormones:



Secrete human growth hormone (hGH), aka somatotropin, which stimulates tissues to secrete hormones that stimulate body growth and regulate metabolism.


Secrete follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which both act on the gonads. They stimulate the secretion of estrogen and progesterone, maturation of egg cells in the ovaries, and stimulate sperm production and secretion of testosterone in the testes.


Secrete prolactin (PRL), which initiates milk production in the mammary glands.


Secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal cortex to secrete glucocorticoids (like cortisol). Also secretes melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH).


Secrete thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which controls secretions of the thyroid gland.


This table represents the types of hormones secreted by the cells of the anterior pituitary.


Target Area


Human-growth hormone (hGH)


Stimulates tissue growth in the liver, muscles, bones, as well as protein synthesis, tissue repair, and elevation of blood glucose levels.

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)

Thyroid gland

Stimulates thyroid gland to secrete thyroid hormones.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

Ovaries and testes (gonads)

Stimulates development of oocytes (immature egg cells) and secretion of estrogen in females; stimulates sperm production in the testes in males.

Luteinizing hormone (LH)

Ovaries and testes (gonads)

Stimulates secretion of estrogen and progesterone, including during ovulation, in females; stimulates testes to produce testosterone in males.

Prolactin (PRL)

Mammary glands

Stimulates milk production.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)

Adrenal cortex

Stimulates secretion of glucocorticoids (cortisol) by the adrenal cortex during the body’s response to stress.

Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH)


When in excess, can cause darkening of the skin; may influence brain activity (its exact role unknown—there is very little MSH in humans).


Pituitary: Posterior Lobe (Neurohypophysis)

While the anterior lobe shoulders most of the work in producing hormones, the posterior lobe stores and releases only two: oxytocin and antidiuretic hormone (ADH), or vasopressin.





Oxytocin (OT), aka the "love" drug

Secretes in response to uterine distention and stimulation of the nipples.

Stimulates smooth muscle contractions of the uterus during childbirth, as well as milk ejection in the mammary glands.

Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), or vasopressin

Secretes in response to dehydration, blood loss, pain, stress; inhibitors of ADH secretion include high blood volume and alcohol.

Decreases urine volume to conserve water, decreases water loss through sweating, raises blood pressure by constricting arterioles.


Pituitary Disorders

Even though it's very small, the pituitary gland isn't free from ailment—nothing is completely foolproof, after all.

Most disorders of the pituitary glands are tumors, which are common in adults. These growths are not  considered brain tumors, nor are they always malignant. In fact, they're almost always benign in nature! There are two types of pituitary tumors—secretory and non-secretory. A secretory tumor produces too much of a hormone, while a non-secretory tumor does not. Regardless, if the tumor is big enough, it can hinder normal pituitary function. These tumors can be removed, or monitored and controlled with medication.

Problems caused by tumors fall into certain categories:

  • Hyposecretion: Too little of a hormone is produced, interfering in normal function.

  • Hypersecretion: Too much of a hormone is produced, interfering in normal function.

  • Mass effects: The tumor presses on the pituitary or other areas of the brain, causing pain, vision issues, or other problems.

While the pituitary and hypothalamus can run into the above issues, on the whole they work a balancing act on your body. So the next time you're feeling juuuust right, you can thank the pituitary, hypothalamus, and all the other organs of the endocrine system.


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Topics: anatomy and physiology