Family members and administrators gathered around a large new tombstone at the Salt Lake City Cemetery Friday, honoring those who have donated their bodies to science.

While the group listened, prayers were offered by a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, an Episcopal reverend and a Latter-day Saint priesthood holder."They have given, as it were, the last earthly possession they had," said Richard Sperry, associate university vice president for the health sciences," he said.

About 80 bodies are donated each year to the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, said Kerry Peterson, director of the U. regional body donor program. They come from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Peterson said he believes that most of the donors give their bodies for very personal, altruistic reasons. "Most have benefited from a health-care system and have seen an improvement in their quality of life," he said. "So, they want to donate something back."

The bodies are used for more than 20 research projects, including work in orthopedics, genetics and artificial organs, Peterson said. Staff members at the center also use the cadavers to develop new surgical techniques and medical instruments.

One project involves the development of an artificial heart. The heart, Peterson explained, is made up of smooth muscle, which can keep going and going without having to relax. The rest of the body, though, is made up of striated muscle that contracts and relaxes.

When the rectus femoral muscle, a striated muscle in the leg, is electrically stimulated, it acts just like the heart's smooth muscle and may be able to replace damaged heart muscles.

He said that new gall bladder surgery, among other advancements, were developed by working with donated bodies.

"The body is divided up into different planes, and sometimes the old approaches aren't the best way to do a surgery," he added. "There are better ways to approach the organs."

The U. body donor program has been around since the late 1940s, when the medical school became a four-year, degree-granting school. The remains of about 1,600 donors are located at the gravesite, while others were taken back by the donors' families.