Cold comfort for the perfect human body

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SCIENTISTS are searching for the perfect human body. When they find it, they will preserve every square inch forever in an American computer version of Gray's Anatomy. That is the good news. The bad is that they will have to freeze the body solid then slowly grind it to pieces, writes Steve Connor.

The National Library of Medicine in Washington DC is in charge of the first attempt to put a human body, accurate in every anatomical detail, into digital form, called the Visible Human Project. Medical students will practise dissection on computer screens, instead of messing about with scalpels, saws and corpses. Abnormal growths and cancerous tumours could be programmed into the software, giving medics an opportunity to experiment on apparently real diseases. To create the computer image, the scientists propose to photograph about 1,700 cross-sections of a body, starting at the top of the head and ending at the soles of the feet. They will use a milling machine that works like a carpenter's plane, grinding away 'slices' a millimetre thick.

All they need is the right bodies - one male, one female - aged between 25 and 55 and perfectly average in height and build. Race, they say, is immaterial. Just as important, candidates should have been put in a fridge within 12 hours of death and must have no alterations tointernal or external physique - victims of violent accidents are ruled out.

After 18 months, the scientists have come up with only three male candidates and no females.

Michael Ackerman, associate director of specialised information, promises that the resulting remains - a bag of chilly dust - will be treated with respect: 'We will collect it and return it to the deceased's relatives.'