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Reconstructing Broken Bodies: From Industrial Warfare to Industrial Engineered Tissues

zclef785 July 2014

An illuminating and occasionally gruesome lecture for a non-medic unused to the visual realities of war, the third of the series UCL Lunch Hour Lectures on Tour marking the centenary of the First World War tackled a rarely discussed aspect of the aftermath of trench warfare.

Tonk's, Portrait of a Wounded Soldier Before Treatment Credit: UCL Art Museum

Henry Tonks, Portrait of a Wounded
Soldier Before Treatment

Credit: UCL Art Museum

The idea of the fabrication of living tissues to repair injuries is well publicised in the media today, from growing an ear on the back of a mouse, to full face transplants.

However, the development of reconstructive techniques was largely precipitated by the industrial scale of conflict in WW1.

Sadly, Professor Robert Brown (UCL Surgical Science) was unable to attend, so we were left in the capable hands of Colin Hopper (UCL Eastman Dental Institute) who delivered both the historical and medical sides of the lecture with distinctive candour.

Early medical advances

I was unconvinced that a GCSE in Biology would get me through the finer points of tissue fabrication, so it was a relief that we began with the historical context of medical advances during military conflicts since the early 1800s.

The fact that disease was responsible for a large number of deaths during the wars between 1804-15 was hardly a surprise, but the scale of the death–nearly 266,000 of the 311,806 deaths (85%) in the Army and Navy–showed just how much of an impact developments in medicine made to survival rates in future conflicts.

Changes in strategy and weaponry in WW1 caused a significant increase in the number of soldiers who sustained head and limb injuries, yet over 92% of wounded British soldiers evacuated to British medical camps survived. Some fairly horrific slides of facial injuries from more recent Iraqi and Libyan conflicts demonstrated the consequences of the types of weaponry used a hundred years earlier. Major General Henry Shrapnel has a lot to answer for.

As a head and neck surgeon, Colin was interested to know how much the audience thought a person needed of their face to survive. Drawing a line running from the top of the head and behind the ears with his hand, he revealed that anything below that line is an “optional extra”–who needs frontal lobes?

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Buried on Campus

Nick Dawe24 April 2012

UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology has launched a new exhibition, Buried on Campus, exploring the surprising find of more than 7,000 bone fragments in the UCL quad.

In March 2010, unsuspecting construction workers, who were digging a trench to enter the Chadwick Building basement, discovered a huge array of bones. The find shocked many: who or what did the bones belong to? When were they buried? And why were they buried in the quad of all places?

Initially, the Metropolitan Police were called in to investigate, who then brought in UCL’s forensic anatomist Dr Wendy Birch for further advice. Through a thorough (and ongoing) investigation, Dr Birch found that the bones comprised 84 individual humans and a variety of animals and, presumably to the relief of many, there was no sign of foul play.

Later, a seven-day excavation of the area ultimately led to a massive 7,394 fragments being found, and Dr Birch and UCL forensic anthropologist Christine King are still working on reconstructing and analysing these.

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Wandering wombs and wicked water – women’s complaints and their treatment

news editor12 March 2012

This evening event to mark International Women’s Day was held in the UCL Petrie Museum and was remarkably well-attended.

Dr Carole Reeves from the UCL Centre for the History of Medicine delivered an insightful talk, helpfully leaving plenty of time at the end for some engaging questions from the interested audience.

The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus is the oldest known medical text, dating from Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2025-1700 BC) and was used as the basis for the talk.

Dr Reeves used this historical artefact to discuss some of the similarities between complaints in women today and in the ancient world, but also examining the differences in how these problems were perceived and treated.

The Kahun Medical Papyrus was found by Flinders Petrie in 1889, and dates to about 2000 BC. The Papyrus consists of only three pages and is preserved in the Petrie Museum.

Since its discovery, the Papyrus has been translated by multiple people; Dr Reeves clarified that she would be referring specifically to a translation by Professor Stephen Quirke, Curator and Lecturer at the Petrie Museum.

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