Dr. Koeppen Co-Author of New
Netter Atlas of Human Physiology
By Pat Keefe
pithets like "epochal," "gold standard" or "world's best" are routinely used to describe the works of medical illustrator Dr. Frank Netter.
Now the words "University of Connecticut School of Medicine" and "Dr. Bruce Koeppen" are also linked to the famous illustrator's work.
Koeppen, dean for academic affairs, joined Dr. John Hansen of the University of Rochester, as a co-author of the new Netter Atlas of Human Physiology, published this spring. The book uses the paintings of the world's foremost medical illustrator to explain human physiology. Whereas the famous Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy focuses on structure, muscle and bone, for example, the atlas of physiology focuses on function.
"In one respect, I've been preparing for this all of my life," says Koeppen, a medical doctor and a physiologist. "I've trained in this over the years," he says. "Physiology is my research interest and I've kept current with developments in organ physiology and cell physiology."
The project - from concept to completion - took a little over a year. Koeppen focused on it last summer, when he was on sabbatical in Zurich.
"This was a very short time-frame for a project of this magnitude," says co-author Hansen. "If it wasn't for Bruce being so conscientious, we wouldn't have been able to finish when we did. He is a delight to work with, and his expectations are as high as the quality of Frank Netter's illustrations."
Hansen, a neurobiologist and anatomist, is thoroughly familiar with Netter's work. He will be the consulting editor for the third edition of the Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy. After conceptualizi ng the human physiology book, Hansen pored over Netter's more than 5,000 paintings and selected the ones he thought appropriately illustrated physiological principles.
The project was sizeable and intense, but the age of computers has advantages.
Koeppen, in Switzerland, reviewed the paintings as PDF files, and offered suggestions by e-mail if modifications were required; cell biology and cell physiology in the 21st century are more advanced than when Netter was drawing in the 1930s through the 1980s.
Some paintings had to be created. Another member of the team, artist James Perkins of the Rochester Institute of Technology, produced some new masterpieces.
Koeppen said the idea of the physiology book was to provide students with a view of physiology "from 30,000 feet".
"We wanted students to see the big picture," he said, "not lose it by being immersed in all of the details."
The text is appropriate for medical and dental students and for undergraduates taking human physiology. Nurses, physician assistants, and physicians are all likely to find it useful. The book is not a physiology text, however. Both co-authors say they intend it as an adjunct to a standard text.
Koeppen says he'd recommend students use the atlas at the start of a course to get an overview. They could then add layers of detail through their standard text, before returning to the atlas as a source of review material.
"Students struggle a lot between structure and function," says Hansen. "I thought: 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was an atlas of physiology that focused on making physiology visually understandable for students?' That was the genesis of the idea."
He contacted ICon Learning Systems of Teterboro, N.J., the publishers of the Netter atlases today, and they signed on right away.
A little over a year later, the book is available in bookstores.
Koeppen says the project was a lot of fun: "It was fun working with artists and watching a line sketch drawing turn into a real work of art. I was, and still am, constantly amazed at the wealth of information Netter included in his paintings."
Frank Netter, born in 1901, studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and other schools, and by the mid-1920s, was a successful commercial artist, contributing to such publications as the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and The New York Times.
Following his mother's wishes that he find a more "serious" career, by 1933 he completed a residency in surgery at Bellevue Hospital.
He continued to draw, but began concentrating on anatomical illustrations. A biographical sketch declares: "Clarity in illustration was his primary and ultimate goal; no matter how beautifully painted, a picture had little value to him if it did not make clear a medical point. His paintings are forcefully instructive and easily comprehensible, and he has left a gold mine of illustrations for teaching purposes."
The Ciba Pharmaceutical Co., now Novartis, began an association with him in the 1930s. His illustrations were so well received, the company expanded the program by creating a series of volumes that would portray the anatomy and pathology of all systems of the human organism: The Netter Collection of Medical Illustrations.