The independent news organization of Duke University

Human body exposed at Southpoint

The Streets at Southpoint has always been a wholesome destination, with shopping, dining and entertainment for the whole family.

Now, you can add viewing a variety of ripped-open, skinless cadavers to the list of possible activities.

Opening today in the "City of Medicine," BODIES... The Exhibition is a slick collection of real, whole-body specimens and other organs on display in a museum-like setting-or at least as best as can be conjured in a location usually home to the Halloween Costume Warehouse.

"The idea is to teach people about their bodies, and to be a life-supporting experience," explained Dr. Ray Glover, chief medical director for BODIES, which is run by a for-profit organization. "We want to engage the public when they come here."

It's not a hard task, with graphic displays of human anatomy around every corner. The exhibit moves through the human body, progressively peeling back each layer of skin and organs, from skeletal to digestive.

Searching for a completely skinned body? Or for a specimen displaying the distribution of fat in the female body with some rather unflattering cross -sectional cuts? Look no further.

Though initially shocking, there is a definite educational aspect to the exhibit. Seeing a flawlessly preserved healthy lung next to the flaccid, hollow lung of a longtime smoker is more powerful than a decade of anti-drug television advertisements.

Glover said over 200,000 schoolchildren have visited the exhibition in its three years of national touring.

"When they're in the lobby or outside the building, they buzz, but once they're in here they all quiet down," he said.

Indeed, some of BODIES is more Magic School Bus than MCAT. "The circulatory system is the body's superhighway," reads a note on the wall.

"When a breast-feeding woman eats garlic, her baby will suckle longer," reads another.

The latter topic-fetal development-is covered in an optional area of the building which should be required viewing for everyone with strong feelings of any kind on abortion.

Imagine a row of glass boxes with fetuses in different stages of development, and you'll understand why there is a prominent warning on the entrance to the room.

All the bodies in the exhibit are treated with a polymer preservation process to prevent the tissue's natural decay, resulting in a specimen that retains the look of the original but has the flexibility of rubber.

Using real human cadavers has made BODIES-and several similar exhibitions-a lightning rod for controversy.

Critics allege that bodies are obtained through unethical means, and that the subjects did not intend to be on display. Glover said the company follows all international laws.

Still, BODIES has drawn millions of people during its previous stops in cities such as Miami, Seattle and London, and its sister production continues to attract tourists to New York's South Street Seaport.

Approximately 200,000 are expected for the four-month Durham run.

"All told, BODIES... The Exhibition is expected to help generate $24 million in overall spending in Durham with a net economic impact on the community of $17 million," said Reyn Bowman, president and CEO of the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, in a statement.

"[It] is a coup for Durham as a rapidly emerging destination," he added.