Anatomage makes virtual dissection a reality

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Spring 2014 issue (pdf)

Beth Krippendorf, PhD ’93, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, demonstrates the utility of the Anatomage Table in teaching the medical neurosciences.
Beth Krippendorf, PhD ’93, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, demonstrates the utility of the Anatomage Table in teaching the medical neurosciences.

A state-of-the-art virtual dissection table acquired last year by the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) is proving a valuable complement to traditional anatomy learning. The Anatomage Table uses three-dimensional imagery from digitally scanned specimens to offer a life-size, virtual dissection experience via touchscreen interface. It has the capacity to render limitless views of the human body in exquisite detail.

The technology allows learners to visualize skeletal tissues, muscles, organs and soft tissue and further customize the interaction by virtually slicing, layering and segmenting the anatomy. The selections can be rotated or flipped to accommodate any viewpoint.

“Using the Anatomage teaching tool allows us to very dynamically show students anatomy – and to show it to them in three dimensions – and allow them during lab time or in the classroom setting to come up and actually manipulate the specimens themselves,” said Todd Hoagland, PhD, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy.

The tool has particular utility in helping students understand three-dimensional relationships in ways that static images, like those in textbooks, cannot. For example, Beth Krippendorf, PhD ’93, Associate Professor of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, incorporated the Anatomage Table into the gross brain laboratories of the M1 medical neuroscience course. It helps students learn the sectional topography of the brain.

“In order to study a brain specimen, MCW students remove the brain from the cranial cavity of their body donor,” Dr. Krippendorf said. “While this dissection keeps the brain intact, the brain specimen removal necessarily removes the relationship of the brain to other cranial structures. The Anatomage images show the brain in situ, so it facilitates learning the 3D relationships between the brain and other structures in the head region.”

Student feedback on use of the device has been positive. They thought it was a valuable tool to supplement dissection. Students requested that the table be made available for further study outside of scheduled laboratory sessions.

Beyond its use in gross anatomy coursework for medical students, the Anatomage Table has applications for residents, teaching faculty and practicing physicians. The Anatomage offers students the chance to explore human anatomy in an interactive environment, faculty the ability to annotate real-life clinical scans for optimal teaching encounters, clinicians the opportunity to practice patient-specific medical visualizations, and researchers the ability to merge 3D geometric models with volumetric images to support research efforts.

The ability to import actual patient radiology images from MCW’s hospital affiliates is noteworthy for the added detail and interactivity it can offer during case studies.

MCW educators have begun objectively measuring the impact of using the Anatomage Table on learning outcomes. Jacqueline J. Wertsch, MD, Fel ’81, an emeritus faculty member in physical medicine and rehabilitation at MCW, guided several current faculty and staff through the process of developing abstracts approved for the American Association of Clinical Anatomists meeting in 2013.

They addressed:

  • Teaching pelvic floor musculoskeletal anatomy using Anatomage
  • Teaching fluoroscopically-guided injection procedures using Anatomage
  • Implementing screen captures of Anatomage content for use with community-based medical education programs

“We’re very fortunate to have the Anatomage Table,” Dr. Hoagland said. “There are only a few dozen of these in existence in the world, and considering we have this now, it should be a great way to generate scholarship and to really help train the next generation of physicians.”


Anatomage in action


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