Unprecedented Journey Inside the Living Body

Recent technological advances have allowed for such dramatic and amazing views of the inside of our bodies that watching the footage can feel like you're in a science fiction film or on an imaginary expedition.

In such a science fiction journey, the 1966 film "Fantastic Voyage," a group of scientists and their submarine were miniaturized so they could be injected into a body in order to eliminate an otherwise unreachable brain clot.

"I use clips from that movie when I lecture about these new technologies," said Dr. Steven Palter, the medical and scientific director of Gold Coast IVF in Syosset, N.Y. "Now, physicians can actually see the workings of the body and understand it in a way that they never could before."

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Palter, who has a medical technology blog called docinthemachine.com, is a pioneer of methods capable of producing spectacular high-definition surgical images.

He is one of more than 200 scientists and experts who were recruited to advise the makers of a documentary titled "Inside the Living Body," which premieres Sept. 16 on the National Geographic Channel.

Click here to visit the National Geographic Channel for more.

Among others who contributed to the unique, cradle-to-grave depiction of the inner workings of our bodies are the British scientific photographer and biologist David Barlow, known for his work producing extraordinary views from inside the womb, and Stephen Marsh, a cellular biologist who is executive producer of the documentary.

Given new advances in technology, "The whole idea was to make a seamless voyage through one body," said Marsh. "We all have external appearances that are very different, but our internal lives are surprisingly similar."

Palter obtained his footage by advancing well-established procedures that allow doctors to insert cameras through small incisions and view the target areas of their surgeries. He successfully hooked up high-definition cameras and, he said, was awestruck by the results.

"With high definition, we're seeing things that we had never seen before … with depth perception, clarity and detail … because now it's enormously clear and magnified. We have views that you don't get with your naked eye."

Fat Cells, Salivary Glands and More

The imagery that Palter contributed to the documentary included a sequence that showed an ovarian follicle, a tiny sac of fluid that contained a developing egg.

"As we turned the ovary over, we saw this developing egg that just happened to be there at that point in the cycle," he said. "The image is so sharp and recorded with such clarity that it's a higher-resolution image than virtually any surgeon has ever seen."

In England, Marsh supervised the assembly of sequences depicting the development that takes place inside our bodies as we age. The sequences also use computer scenes generated from high-resolution MRI and CT scans of human beings. The information from the scans is digitized into virtual images of internal areas where cameras can't go.

Some scenes are reminders of things we collect too much of in a lifetime. Palter's high-definition view of fat cells lining a stomach are, in their own way, frightening. "That's commonly seen in surgery," Palter said. "It's just that now we see it more clearly. In some people, it's so bad that there's almost no room to work inside, where there's just an enormous amount of fat."

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