A rite of passage in medical school is cutting up a cadaver. But not at Case Western Reserve University’s new doctor college. There, starting in 2019, students will tunnel through a human body using virtual reality.
Instead of grabbing a scalpel to learn anatomy, students will don VR goggles and walk around a virtual life-size human body. Students can peel back digital layers of skin, muscles and vessels down to bone; they’ll be able and watch the heart pump, the muscles flex and the joints articulate.
Microsoft, which is working with the university to create the digital cadaver, is tuning up the program’s interactivity. Students might be able to “hold” a virtual kidney and turn it this way or that to see how blood vessels are laid out across its surface.
The tradition of using actual bodies always has been trouble: Students faint or vomit; cadaver labs need a lot of space and specialized equipment, such as refrigeration; and it’s hard to get people to donate their bodies to be sliced up, so students often have to share a single cadaver. That can make it hard for every student get a good view or carry out the actual dissection.
Despite its commitment to a digital future, the university promises that students still will have time with actual cadavers.