Cadaverless Anatomy Class: Mixed Reality Medical School

Ingrid Hein

October 06, 2017

A new way of learning anatomy that involves no cadavers, no chemicals, no storage issues, and no allergic reactions is being piloted by 32 medical students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

For the past 100 years, cadavers have been a student's first experience with mortality and "a valuable introduction to the world of medicine," said Erin Henninger, executive director of interactive commons at Case Western Reserve University.

However, a cadaver is not a living representation of a human, she pointed out. The colors are different, the lung is collapsed, and the textures are not the same as in a living body.

HoloAnatomy uses mixed reality to enable students to visualize a 3-dimensional object and, thanks to depth sensors and tracking devices, to "plane through" and manipulate the visualizations.

The system, an educational application of the Microsoft HoloLens technology, was demonstrated by Simon Kos, MD, chief medical officer at Microsoft, at Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference 2017 in Santa Clara, California.

New technology allows students to see a 3D representation of a human body, reducing learning time and the cost of maintaining anatomy labs (Source: Erin Henninger)

Dr Kos donned a HoloLens headset and a video showed that he was seeing a 3D representation of a human body. As he walked around the stage, he could see the body from another angle. "Using air tap and a voice-activated system, students can interact with this model," he explained as he zoomed in to reveal muscle and organ layers of the holographic human.

The HoloLens technology is considered mixed reality because the user experience goes beyond virtual reality or augmented reality.

Case Western has been hard at work customizing the technology to meet its educational standards. "Our medical students will go through a pilot this fall," said Henninger. "We're going to see if they meet their learning objectives" as well as students do with cadaver-base teaching.

During the pilot, students will be going to an off-campus lab for a couple of weeks to experience dissection.

The change was met with some resistance, but it did not last, Henninger reported. "We've all seen technology come and go, so everyone has skepticism, but once they see this, they realize it is a completely different medium," she told Medscape Medical News.

No More Masks, Chemicals, Cadaver Storage

"The chemicals used to preserve bodies are harsh and can provoke allergies in some people, and the labs are difficult and expensive to maintain," Henninger explained. Storage freezers and air circulation systems are also expensive.

And HoloAnatomy learning saves time. For example, students can go straight to the circulatory system; "they don't have to work on the whole outside to get to the inside," she pointed out.

Students are enthusiastic about the technology. "We get really positive feedback. Students tell us that using the HoloLens saves them dozens of hours in a cadaver lab. They tell us they like having a really clear visual on where things are located and how things are organized," she reported.

"This will revolutionize education," she said.

Health 2.0 Annual Fall Conference 2017. Presented October 3, 2017.

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