by Adrian Murphy
From as early as 1600BC humans have learnt about the anatomy of their own species from undertaking anatomical dissections. For generations of medical students undertaking cadaveric dissections represented a rite of passage into the world of anatomical knowledge and subsequent treatment of more extant patients. Technology may be about to revolutionize ritual for today’s medical students, however.
The 3D virtual anatomical dissection table has arrived and has already replaced cadaveric dissection for students at a number of medical schools around the world. This life-size 3D interactive virtual dissection table allows students to interact with anatomy by using a virtual knife to cut away layers of the body at any angle, rotate the body in any direction, and also isolate structures. Students can cut the body, peel off soft tissue or remove an organ with their fingers. And unlike cadavers, the students can redo and undo the dissection again and again.
The table comes with a gross anatomy model rendered from CT scan data but can also open any data from CT, MRI, and ultra-sound to allow for customized dissections as well as pre-operative planning. It may not have the visceral feel (or smell) of a real cadaver but may for reasons of cost and palatability be the future for many medical schools.
For those of us without the budgets or space for a full operating table-sized touchscreen there is always the iPad though. There are a large number of anatomy apps available for tablet devices, many of which offer excellent information resources to students and practicing surgeons alike.
The classics such as Gray’s and Netter’s have both free and paid for apps. The free versions tend to be quite light on detail and really serve as a taster prior to buying the full version – which can be as expensive as the old-fashioned text book (Netter’s retails for $89.99). The iPad version of Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy contains 531 different images which are easily accessed using the built in browser. The advantage of the app over a regular book is the interactive nature which the digital version offers. Tapping on a pin brings up information related to the indicated structure such as origins, insertions, innervation, vascular supply and actions. It is possible to switch the labels off to allow the user to test themselves.
For those who like their anatomy with a more artistic flavor there is a stunning Leonardo da Vinci iPad app produced by the Royal Collection Trust. This app features high resolution reproductions of all 268 of Leonardo’s anatomical drawings held in the British Royal Collection. As well as viewing these stunning drawings in detail the app also allows users to reverse and translate the thousands of notes made by the artist in his distinctive mirror-writing, direct from the pages of his notebooks.