Sunday 29 March 2015

The horizons of the exhibit “FACES”: anthropological context and applications in medicine

The exhibition FACES. The Many Visages of Human History is, in its own way, a landmark of the work that Arc Team, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Padua and Antrocom NPO are making together.

The reconstructions of the faces of hominins; of St. Anthony and of  the Blessed Luca Belludi; of Francesco Petrarca and of Giambattista Morgagni, are the evidence of a research that lasted for months and that continues nowadays; a research intended to be expanded to other areas of interest.

In fact, the exhibition offers to the visitors the opportunity to reflect on concepts meaningful to anthropology as diversity, self-perception and identity from the point of view both historical and  contemporary, but it is also a mirror of a continuous testing of technologies that open new perspectives in different areas of anthropological research.

Staying in the wake of the topics of the exhibition, there is no doubt that the perception of the self and diversity are important parameters in the assessments of medical anthropology, especially if the feedback on them are carried out in the light of the implementation of new technologies and 3D printing, in particular applied in medicine.

For example, the prostheses that can be constructed, even printed, in a relatively short time and custom-made for the patient. We have a lot of examples from this point of view:  the mandible custom-made for a 83 years old woman or the cranium completely replaced in a 22 years old Dutch patient; or the realization of live organs, such as liver, tracheal cartilage and ear directly using living cells.

More, forensic reconstruction is a valuable tool in reconstructive surgery: examples of implementation, in this context, are the reconstruction of the face of Albert of Trento via open source software, or of the face of a child mummy preserved at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

I shall focus in particular on an implementation made by Cicero Moraes in order to treat the developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH), a neonatal congenital malformation and treatable using Pavlik harness or making a particular plaster cast (hip spica cast). There may be, in severe cases, even a type of orthopedic surgery.

This treatment involves a continuous monitoring of the patient because of its complications: pain, increased temperature, lesions of the skin. Moraes, together with researchers Munhoz, Kunkel and Tanaka, has implemented an alternative method to the common orthosis consisting in a photogrammetric scanning of the hip in order to replicate the perfect geometry of the anatomical part, with reduction of costs and time and avoiding complications to the patient.

The aims of our research are gradually expanding and we know that we have to do still a lot of work. It's a good thing, however, that we stopped for a moment to take stock of the situation and to recognize that we are helping to improve the state of affairs. Not only in archeology and anthropology, but also in other fields thanks to the scope of what we are doing. A result achieved thanks to motivated individuals who, despite residing in geographic areas far apart, have joined efforts to reach a common goal by sharing data and projects.

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