“Pretty Spectacular” Images of Fetal Development now available as iBook
By Dave Andrusko
Both NRLC Director of Education Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon (see below) and myself have written glowing reviews of a book that transformed the way we understand fetal development: “From Conception to Birth: a Life Unfolds.” The author is Alexander Tsiaras.
His work is amazing, but it is hard to give a name to what Tsiaras does. He describes himself a scientist, an artist, and a journalist, but what he has done is to develop scanning and visualization software that enables him to develop rich, 4-D animations of different human body parts, organs, and processes.
Some of his most stunning work has been with fetal development. He catalogued his work in “Conception to Birth: a Life Unfolds” (published in 2002) and then animated this in a series of 40 videos – one for each week –on his website.
I recently received an alert from VisualMD.com that they were was launching a new iBook from Tsiaras: “Conception to Birth: The Visual Guide to Your Pregnancy” now available in the Apple iTunes Bookstore.
Granted this is a promotional blurb, but the description of the original book happens to be true. We read
“Ten years ago, with the publication of his book From Conception to Birth: A Life Unfolds, Alexander Tsiaras changed forever the way we perceive life inside the womb. Remarkable innovations in medical imaging technology allowed us to see, in stunning detail, the awe-inspiring process of life unfolding. The book’s vivid images revealed the many miracles of development: the heart’s first beats at 21 days, the tentative movements of minuscule arms and legs, the complexity of the brain’s growth throughout the 9 months.”
We’re told that Tsiaras continued to look for ways to make the data more accessible, more interactive, and more usable than allowed by the printed page. Conception to Birth: The Visual Guide to Your Pregnancy has just been published as an iBook and in it “those amazing images” from the book “have been translated into a totally interactive format. Developed specifically for the iPad.” Meaning what?
“At the touch of a fingertip, videos can be viewed and 3D images rotated and examined in close-up detail. Text pops up to explain the causes of pregnancy symptoms. Deeper and deeper layers of embryonic and fetal anatomy can be peeled away. … In-depth, thoroughly researched text provides an enriching accompaniment to the visual imagery.”
I’m really excited about this, and my guess is many of our readers will be too. I’ve attached below a portion of Dr. O’Bannon’s original review of a video that was (and is) circulating on the Ted.com website features a fascinating talk by Tsiaras discussing his work with the fetal images at an INK conference in Lavasa, India, in December of 2010.
“Looking at these two simple cells that have this kind of unbelievable machinery that will become the magic of you”
By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research
The short fetal development video is stunning, as always, offering a shortened version of the series Tsiaras has on his visualMD.com website. However his remarks add another level of interest as the scientist/artist/journalist offers his personal assessment of what he has seen.
Before showing the video, he mentions collagen.
… your entire body, everything –your hair, skin, bone, nails –everything is made of collagen. And it’s a kind of rope-like structure that twirls and swirls like this. And the only place that collagen changes its structure is in the cornea of your eye. In your eye, it becomes a grid formation, and therefore, it becomes transparent, as opposed to opaque. So perfectly organized a structure, it was hard not to attribute divinity to it. Because we kept on seeing this over and over and over again in different parts of the body.
The video excerpt that Tsiaras shares shows fertilization, the cell division that occurs every few hours thereafter, the development of the heart within the first month, the arms and hands and vertebrae early in the second month, the developing retina, nose and fingers before the month is over, and finally, even what birth looks like for the baby!
Once the video has run, Tsiaras comments, “as you can see, when you actually start working on this data, it’s pretty spectacular.”
… as we kept on scanning more and more, working on this project, looking at these two simple cells that have this kind of unbelievable machinery that will become the magic of you. And as we kept on working on this data, looking at small clusters of the body, these little pieces of tissue that were a trophoblast coming off of a blastocyst, all of a sudden burrowing itself into the side of the uterus, saying, “I’m here to stay.” All of a sudden having conversation and communications with the estrogens, the progesterones, saying, “I’m here to stay, plant me,” building this incredible trilinear fetus that becomes, within 44 days, something that you can recognize, and then at nine weeks is really kind of a little human being. The marvel of this information: How do we actually have this biological mechanism inside our body to actually see this information?
Tsiaras discusses the development of the human heart, which, through “magnificent origami” of cells developing at a rate of what he says are “one million cells per second” folding in on themselves, goes from what he calls “basically two strands” at 25 days to the ventricles, atria, and valves of that essential marvelous human organ in the matter of a few weeks. Of “The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go” Tsiaras gushes, “the complexity of these mathematical models of how these things are indeed done are beyond human comprehension.”
To make his point, Tsiaras shows a photo of human capillaries.
Even though I am a mathematician, I look at this with marvel of how do these instruction sets not make these mistakes as they build what is us? It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity. Then you start to take a look at adult life. Take a look at this little tuft of capillaries. It’s just a tiny sub-substructure, microscopic. But basically by the time you’re nine months and you’re given birth, you have almost 60,000 miles of vessels inside your body. I mean, and only one mile is visible. 59,999 miles that are basically bringing nutrients and taking waste away. The complexity of building that within a single system is, again, beyond any comprehension or any existing mathematics today.
Tsiaras is clearly amazed by what he has seen as he has studied and catalogued and analyzed the development of the unborn child.
By all means go to the websites, take a look for yourself and you will be amazed, too. And share it with anyone struggling to decide whether the life they carry within is worth bearing.
As Tsiaras shows, the development of every single human life is “pretty spectacular.”