If medical students can dissect cadavers using 3D Models…

January 8th, 2012

why can’t law students use laptops in class?

In a basement lab at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan last month, students in scrubs and surgical gloves hovered over cadavers on gurneys, preparing, as would-be doctors have for centuries, to separate rib cages and examine organs. But the dead are imperfect stand-ins for the living. Death — and embalming fluid — take a toll.

So, in an adjacent classroom, a group of students wearing 3-D glasses made by Nvidia, a graphics processing firm, dissected a virtual cadaver projected on a screen. Using a computer to control the stereoscopic view, they swooped through the virtual body, its sections as brightly colored as living tissue. First, the students scrutinized layers of sinewy pink muscles layered over ivory bones. Then, with the click of a mouse, they examined a close-up of the heart, watching as deep blue veins and bright red arteries made the heart pump.

Compared with the real cadavers in the lab next door, the virtual one seemed as dynamic as Imax.

“It’s like a living digital textbook,” said John J. Qualter, a research assistant professor of educational informatics at the medical school who helped design the 3-D installation.

The virtual human body is the creation of BioDigital Systems, a medical visualization firm in Manhattan that Mr. Qualter helped to found. It develops animations of the anatomy for drug makers like Novartis, medical device makers like Medtronic, television shows like “Mystery Diagnosis” and medical schools.

The virtual body, introduced last month at N.Y.U., represents an unusual collaboration between industry and academia. The companies, which originally paid BioDigital to develop medical animations of certain body parts for commercial purposes, agreed to let the design firm freely use the digital models for educational purposes. In recognition of N.Y.U.’s involvement, the company has pledged a small share of future revenue to the medical school.

Not everyone is convinced:

But her colleague, Susanna Jeurling, a first-year medical student from Washington, disagreed. Dissecting a real cadaver, she said, gives students a unique, tactile understanding of the body.

“I don’t think this will ever replace cadavers,” said Ms. Jeurling, 24. “There’s something about being able to hold it and turn it in your hand.”

Administrators at the medical school say they have no plans to phase out dissection, an educational method that dates back to the Ptolemaic era. The 3-D digital human body is merely a complementary teaching method, said Dr. Marc M. Triola, associate dean for educational informatics.

“It’s an amazing blend of one of the oldest medical education techniques and the absolute newest,” Dr. Triola said.

I had to dissect some animals in the 9th grade–I seem to recall dissecting a worm and a frog. I hated it. I absolutely hated it. It seemed so stupid and so gross. I actually remember searching on the web (mind you this was circa 1998 or so, I don’t think we had google) for some kind of virtual simulation. There was one. Alas, I was stuck slicing apart a frog, and putting Nicotine (or some stimulant) on its heart to get it beating (why I have no idea).