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Virtual gets real

3D anatomy tool brings bodies to 'life' for MD students

By Michelle Osmond

A long, white table the size of a stretcher dominates one of the laboratories at the Faculty of Medicine.

It’s shiny and new, and there’s a reason it’s the size of a stretcher: It holds a virtual human body, but it looks more real than virtual.

That’s because, technically, it is real.

New level of learning

The body is one of four cadavers available through the table’s software, Anatomage 6.0 – two males and two females.

They are Caucasian and Asian, complete with gross anatomy images, case studies, quizzes and a number of pathology and histology slides (tens of thousands, in fact). The images are from non-chemically treated cadavers with their color and shape preserved.

It’s about as real as virtual gets.

The Anatomage 6.0 is a new teaching and learning tool housed in the Multidisciplinary Laboratories at the Faculty of Medicine. It is the world’s first virtual dissection table and the only fully segmented, real human, 3D-anatomy system. Users can visualize anatomy exactly as they would on a fresh cadaver – and beyond.

Anatomage 6.0 works essentially like an iPhone with a very sensitive screen; there are sensors all around the edges. Users can pull things apart in 2D to expand it and they can shift it and rotate it. The “stretcher” can also stand up and users can zone in on areas as well as add or remove body systems.

The new table will provide residents, like Dr. Gina Colbourne, in her first year of obstetrics and gynecology residency, a whole new level of learning.

“The study of human anatomy can be quite challenging,” she said. “Textbook photos also don’t give you an accurate representation, and cadaver study or review is not always available. It’s amazing to me that I can now review a topic or portion of anatomy, then go to the Anatomage table and solidify my knowledge in a very realistic way.”

Preparing for the real thing

Students can also rotate the virtual body and cut in any direction.

Dr. Colbourne says she particularly likes being able to add or subtract anatomical layers with the virtual dissection tool.

Medicine, teaching, technology
A group of first year obstetrics and gynecology residents use the Anatomage 6.0 Table for the first time.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

To learn just about the vessels, for example, users can “remove” the muscles to get a better look at them.

“If I wanted to study only the nerves on a specimen, I would still have to work around other structures like muscles, bones, connective tissue and vessels,” said Dr. Colbourne, who was one of the first to try out the new table. “With Anatomage, with the touch of a button, I can add or subtract any of these structures to learn them individually. Then piece them all together at the end.”

She also says the tool is a great way to prepare for encounters with a real patient or a cadaver specimen.

The smartphone generation

Dr. Patricia Cousins is the manager of the Multidisciplinary Laboratories.

She believes learners will figure out how to use the technology very quickly.

“They’re the iPad and smartphone generation. They’re used to seeing things in 2D and 3D,” Dr. Cousins said. “Faculty can come in before their lectures and pull what they want to see, like pathologies of a brain with Alzheimer’s disease, save the images and case studies on a USB, and show what they’ve planned for their class or they can let the students go in and just explore.”

Only a handful of Canadian universities have the technology, but the Anatomage 6.0 table can be used by anyone at Memorial.

The Anatomage 6.0 table is part of a larger renovation to the Multidisciplinary Laboratories, which also includes new point-of-care ultrasound machines as well as four tables for wet specimens and cadaver use, all of which translates into more teaching capacity for students.

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