One US university is planning on teaching the next generation of medics with the next generation of virtual reality technology.
Every doctor, no matter how long they’ve been out of medical school, will remember the first time they walked into a dissection lab. They’ll remember the smell of the embalming fluid, the feeling of peeling back the cover to reveal the cadaver underneath, and being handed a scalpel and asked to make their first incision.
It’s a rite of passage for many aspiring doctors: some will cry or faint at the sight of the cadaver, some will understand for the first time how different systems work together, or that medicine goes hand in hand with mortality, and all will feel profoundly grateful to the person whose donated body lies in front of them.
Dissection labs are often cramped, with too many students per cadaver to afford everyone a good view. The chemicals used to preserve the bodies are harsh and can provoke allergies in some people, and the labs are difficult and expensive to maintain.
Could there be a better way for medical students to learn anatomy? One university thinks so: when Case Western opens its new health education campus in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic in 2019, students won’t learn anatomy from cadavers, they’ll learn it from virtual reality.
“In 2013, I was part of a team that was asked to teach anatomy completely digitally — not having any cadaver lab in this new building. Obviously, this is a pretty big challenge. We’ve had many hundreds of years of teaching anatomy the same way, but we also thought the time was right to think about doing it in a new way… it’s very difficult to maintain a cadaver lab, the cost and infrastructure required to maintain that is very difficult. Not only is there the challenge of having people’s bodies donated, but there’s a lot of challenge around all the environmental concerns,” Mark Griswold, a professor in the department of radiology at Case Western, told ZDNet.
With that all-digital teaching in mind, the university had tried out using large touchscreens as a way of attempting to replicate the anatomy lab, but found the vital 3D element missing from the touchscreens meant they weren’t quite right. Now, they’re planning to use Microsoft’s HoloLens system — what Redmond calls a ‘mixed reality’ device which layers virtual projections on top of the user’s real-world view.
The university’s collaboration with Microsoft came about as Toby Cosgrove, president of the Cleveland Clinic, knew Craig Mundie, then head of Microsoft Research, and was invited to come and see the technology in action back in 2014. Though it was still early days for HoloLens, the staff were convinced of the technology’s potential for anatomy teaching.
“From one minute to the next, we realised our lives had changed and this would revolutionise the way we teach,” Griswold said.
When Microsoft launched HoloLens earlier this year, one of the ways it has been demonstrating the system is with an anatomy app, where HoloLens wearers can see a representation of a human body in 3D, and navigate through the layers of skin, muscle, blood vessels, and organs to the skeleton below. HoloLens users can see the heart in the chest, how it pumps blood around the body, and how and where each of the veins and arteries feed into it. You can walk around it, see all the different structures in 3D dimensions from whatever view you choose: you can even stare down through the top of the head into the body below.
For those Case Western students starting at the new campus, this will be the main way they learn anatomy: by putting on a HoloLens headset and having their teacher guide them through a lesson on a virtual human subject. Read the full article here.