Pig organ donation provides hands-on learning for MC students

Pig organ donation provides hands-on learning for MC students 

Dec. 13, 2017

Students in Dr. Jennifer Oody’s Human Anatomy & Physiology classes are learning beyond the textbook and getting hands-on experience in the lab, thanks to a relationship between Maryville College and Wampler’s Farm Sausage in Lenoir City, Tenn.

Wampler’s donated pig eyes, hearts, lungs, kidneys and pancreases to Maryville College, after Oody contacted the company.

“I had spoken with some people at local community colleges and learned that they received donated specimens,” said Oody, assistant professor of exercise science at Maryville College. “I contacted Wampler’s, and they said they would provide whatever I needed. Everything is donated, so we are able to pick up everything at their farm and store it, and then we’re able to use it for the entire year as we need with the different labs.”

“The relationship with Wampler’s is something we’re really excited about, and we’re hoping it continues in the future,” she added.

Dissecting the donated specimens in the lab provides students with hands-on learning opportunities to help them better understand both the anatomical structure and physiological concepts related to the organs of the special senses, cardiovascular system, respiratory system, endocrine system, digestive system and urinary system, Oody said. Students also learn about Wampler's Farm's commitment to sustainability and education.

“Students are getting the opportunity to see the materials that they might not get to see as part of their everyday experience, so by conceptualizing and compartmentalizing all of the different structures that we look at, they’re able to get a better understanding of how those structures work,” she said.

The pig organs that are donated by Wampler’s are a great fit for Oody’s anatomy and physiology labs because the structure of pig organs is quite similar to the internal structure of humans, and the organs are large enough to accurately identify a variety of structures, Oody said. Additionally, the donations allow Oody’s students to have the opportunity to do more dissections throughout the year.

“If I wanted to do these dissections well – two to three students per specimen – each semester, it would cost over $1,000 a year for heart, kidney, eyes and pluck (lungs, heart, aorta and trachea),” Oody said. “That is a very costly year of dissections and would be unrealistic without the donation from Wampler’s. The donated specimens allow us to do more dissections that we’d normally do, because the ratio of students to specimens is much higher.”

On Nov. 30, students dissected eyes as part of their review of the special senses. They also did an activity in which they had to find their blind spots, and they did an equilibrium testing exercise.

During the eye dissection, Oody asked students to look for the fibrous layer, the choroid layer, the retina, the aqueous and vitreous humor, and the lens.

Live dissection “takes things to another level,” the professor said.

“In a book, they’re looking at two-dimensional pictures, and although the pictures are fantastic, it doesn’t contribute at all to their understanding of shape and size, how big things are and how they feel,” she said. “For example, when they were cutting open the eye, a lot of them struggled with it. The fibrous layer is really thick. It’s hard to puncture and hard to get through, and that’s part of what they’re learning and understanding – just how protective that fibrous layer is. When they get inside and see the retina, they can see how delicate the tissues are, and that piece of it contributes so much to their learning. They would have never gotten that from a picture.”

Colby Beach ’18, an exercise science major and lab assistant for the Human Anatomy & Physiology labs, said the hands-on experience of dissecting organs helps him understand the way the structures work, rather than just reading about it or hearing about it in class.

“You are given all of these images of the different layers, but once you get hands-on, pulling things apart and actually getting down into it, you can see what you’re actually supposed to be seeing in these images,” said Beach, who is from Kingston, Tenn. “That really helped me, especially when we got into lungs. We had a pump that allowed us to inflate the lungs and actually see how they work. You see the trachea and esophagus and get a better idea of how things work – it’s a more holistic way rather than just looking at a diagram.”

While he was initially considering medical school, he has now decided to pursue a career in disease research and hopes to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I feel that this experience makes me more well-rounded with what I want to do,” he said. “I’ll be involved in health care in a way, but I won’t be directly interacting with patients. It will be looking at diseases but having an understanding of how the body works behind the diseases I’m studying and how it affects them.”

Caitlin Blair ’20, an exercise science major from Maryville, Tenn., said organ dissection “makes it a lot easier than just staring at a textbook.”

“This class has made a huge difference for me in knowing what I want to do with my life,” said Blair, who is considering a career in physical therapy. “Learning about the human body as a whole is something I’m really fascinated with, and learning about this in undergrad will really help me in graduate school.”

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.