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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Feature:
The Visible Humans

The Visible Humans

Twenty years ago, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) did something that had never been done before. And the world still benefits from it.

Human-sized plexiglass book of the Visible HumanHuman-sized plexiglass man and woman in Visible Human Project

These artful works were created using the Visible Human Project data. The two human-sized plexiglass books detailing the human body were created by the Exploratorium in San Francisco and are on display in the National Library of Medicine Visitor Center.
Photos By: Fran Sandridge, National Library of Medicine

Hand image from the Visible Human Project Hand and arm images from the Visible Human Project

The hand and arm images were created from Visible Human Project data around 2000, shown in contrast to similar images drawn by Leonardo DaVinci around 1500.
Photos By: Karl Hoehne, University Medical Center, Hamburg

NLM created a library of digital images representing the complete anatomy of a man and a woman who donated their bodies to science. Those two live on as the Visible Humans.

"The Visible Human images give a unique and detailed look inside the body," says Michael J. Ackerman, PhD, a biomedical engineer at NLM who led the development of the Visible Human Project. "People around the world can and do use the images in a variety of ways. They have been used to help students learn anatomy; or to develop products like artificial limbs; or to create tools to help surgeons rehearse operations. They've even been used in artwork.

"The Visible Humans were introduced in 1994," Ackerman adds. Since then, more than 3,600 licenses to use the Visible Humans have been granted to people in more than 60 countries."

Anouk Stein, MD, for example, developed apps that help students from middle school to medical school, as well as patients, learn anatomy. Her iAnatomy app won a 2011 NLM app development challenge.

She says the images provide "exquisite detail" and stand the test of time. The fact that the enormous dataset is free to use is another plus. "It allowed me to experiment, to be creative," she explains. "I was grateful it was there."

"The Visible Human images give a unique and detailed look inside the body. People around the world can and do use the images in a variety of ways. They have been used to help students learn anatomy; or to develop products like artificial limbs; or to create tools to help surgeons rehearse operations. They've even been used in artwork.

"The Visible Humans were introduced in 1994. Since then, more than 3,600 licenses to use the Visible Humans have been granted to people in more than 60 countries."
—Michael J. Ackerman, PhD, a biomedical engineer at NLM
who led the development of the Visible Human Project

Fall 2014 Issue: Volume 9 Number 3 Page 26-27