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US Museum Showcases National Medical Collection

US Museum Showcases National Medical Collectioni
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Chris Simkins
August 04, 2012
One of the oldest museums in the United States is devoted to the history of medical technology including items that were used to treat people and so-called anatomical collections of bones and preserved human organs. VOA's Chris Simkins reports the National Museum of Health and Medicine is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a new building for its massive collection of rare - and sometimes morbid - items.

US Museum Showcases National Medical collection

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Chris Simkins
SILVER SPRING, Maryland — One of the oldest museums in the United States is devoted to the history of medical technology including items that were used to treat people and so-called anatomical collections of bones and preserved human organs. The National Museum of Health and Medicine originally opened as the Army Medical Museum during the Civil War. It's celebrating its 150th anniversary with a new building for its massive collection of rare - and sometimes morbid - items.

These conjoined twins are not what you'd come across in a conventional museum.

They are one of the exhibits at The National Museum of Health and Medicine near Washington. Its aim is to promote the understanding of medicine, past, present and future. It's a treasure trove.  

These surgical kits and microscopes used to discover new diseases are from the 1860s.

"What I find so significant is, any given thing, they each have a very unique and interesting story and that's one of the great opportunities that I have in my job to be able to explore them," said Jim Curley, the museum's historical collection specialist, who organizes the artifacts.

Enormous collection has lots of fans

The museum is a big attraction for school children and health workers. They get a close look at the human body - like this leg swollen with elephantiasis, an infectious disease mostly in tropical regions.

The museum has 25,000,000 objects, including preserved organs and more than 5,000 skeletons.  

"This skeleton is of one of our first animal astronauts. Abel was a monkey who flew into space for a very brief period of time in 1959," explains Tim Clark, the museum's deputy director.

The museum showcases specimens that have been used for medical research by the U.S. military.

For example, the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Clark says he focuses on teaching visitors about medical contributions of the military.   

"It became the lessons learned from the battlefield that taught the next generation of physicians and surgeons at a time when science and medicine was evolving rapidly," said Clark.

Delving into the human anatomy

There's also an exhibit on brain injuries.

"This is something we wanted to highlight through actual brain specimens that show these injuries so that people can visually understand what goes on with the brain and how it is changed and why we have these resulting behavior and function problems," said Andrea Schierkolk, the museum's public programs manager.

Michael Koser and his family came to see the museum.

"The pathology that I am seeing here is really interesting as far as learning about the human anatomy and some of the issues that can occur from certain injuries," said Koser.

With this large facility, museum officials say they can continue collecting specimens for care and study, as well as educating younger generations.

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