Visualising human embryos


Human development is fascinating, because it not only shows how the human body is being “constructed”, but also helps to understand adult anatomy and malformations that are due to retardation of growth and differentiation. Embryology has, nevertheless, become almost irrelevant in the (medical) curriculum. A main reason is the lack of realistic images and models of embryos. This applies even more to the lower than the upper part of the body, because the abdominal and pelvic organs still experience important changes after eight weeks, the traditional end of embryological development in textbooks. In our research program, we study the development of abdominal and pelvic structures and organs in existing, histologically processed human embryos and fetuses. We also studied the development of the muscles of the body wall, as shown in these interactive 3D PDFs (1,2). We use computer-aided reconstruction (Amira®) and drawing/animation programs (Cinema4D®) to visualize organs in their natural environment, and use this information to develop educational tools. Recently, we also prepared our first 3D print.