Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati Cardiac MuseumMay 8, 2019
A replica of Lucy, the female hominid species believed to be the first ancestor of the human race on earth, shares the vast room that houses some 8,000 human hearts. Though none of these hearts beat at present, they tell the story of many lives that help protect beating hearts.
Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati Cardiac Museum at Frontier Mediville, near Chennai, is a priceless pathology library with the world’s largest collection of biological specimens of hearts. It is also home to decades of clinical study with precise and comprehensive documentation of diseases of the heart across age groups. There can’t be a better class room for heart surgeons, physicians, medical students and even for the common public to learn about the heart, the first organ that develops in the body, in its clinical entirety.
These hearts of different size, colour and shape that sit in the formalin glass jars in the wide array of galleries in the museum — guarded with an ornate wooden door — span the embryonic to the adult to the old. Perhaps, Lucy is there to symbolize the first tick of the human heart on the planet.
Opened in 2013, India’s first of its kind museum centers around the laudable and exquisite life work of Dr. Maurice Lev and Dr. Saroja Bharati, Director and Professor of Pathology, Rush Medical University, Chicago, who have spent many decades on the most systematic and accurate study of the heart with a precise and comprehensive documentation of diseases of all age groups. Later, they concentrated almost exclusively on congenital heart disease in children, according to the Museum director Dr Sarasa Bharati.
“These hearts were collected since the 1970s by them for their extensive study on various cardiac diseases. We have specimens of hearts here with all cardiac diseases across age groups,” she added.
The museum is set up within Frontier Mediville, a 360 acre medical village located about 50 km away from Chennai. It is promoted by Frontier Lifeline Hospital and Dr KM Cherian Heart Foundation.
Located at Gummidipundi in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, it is the only museum in the world with such a vast collection of hearts.
“It is the largest collection of cardiac pathology anywhere in the country, possibly even the world,” said Dr Cherian, chairman, Frontier Lifeline Hospital and Frontier Mediville, in a recent interview.
“It is the result of two major events. The first is the donation of the entire collection of biological heart specimens by Dr Maurice Lev and Dr. Saroja Bharati, which they started collecting from 1946 onwards. These collections were in exhibition at Chicago for many decades. The second is the most systematic translocation of this collection, along with the infrastructural support, from one continent to the other,” Dr Bharati recalled.
According to Dr Bharati, the entire cost of shipment and transportation, along with insurance of a million dollars, was borne by Dr Cherian.
“This awesome feat, the first of its kind in the entire world, is not likely to be repeated ever,” she added.
Great Academic Relevance
Marking their academic relevance, the careful and meticulous analysis of the heart specimens received from the US and other countries have been published in hundreds of peer-reviewed journal and books.
“This monumental work is of great value to all those treating heart disease, i.e., both cardiac surgeons and physicians and certainly all pathologists and basic scientists as well, and perhaps to the whole society,” noted Dr Bharati.
The museum, named after Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati, spent about $100,000 to ship these specimens, excluding insurance.
Drs Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati are pioneers in studying anatomical and structural abnormalities in the conduction system. The highly complex microscopic anatomy of the system had been extensively studied by recording the findings on more than 300 hearts and by taking 1,500 sections from each heart.
They had also made a detailed study of the conduction system of the heart in most animals known to man, from those of the elephant, the bull and the horse to that of the dog, cat, rabbit and even the snake.
Interestingly, this mammoth work also forms the core of the museum. The results, which had been published in international peer-reviewed journals, would certainly help cardiac surgeons avoid the conduction system during heart surgery.
The museum also houses a large number of other diseased organs from humans, such as the respiratory, gastrointestinal, the genitourinary, skeletal, the central and peripheral nervous system, the endocrines, skin and soft tissue.
The Maurice Lev and Saroja Bharati Cardiac Museum is currently planning to digitize the documents along with the images of the bio-specimens that cannot be preserved infinitely.
“We are now planning to digitize these bio-samples with full description of pathological analysis and other medical details in the larger interest of the medical profession around the globe,” says Dr Cherian.
“But this is again an expensive project and we would explore some external support or help from the government for the same,” informed Dr Bharati.
The digital version might help fit this marvelous collection of key human anatomical studies and the gallery on a digital stick. Still, Gummidipundi will be remembered in the medical world for this amazing piece of physical work.
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