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Virtual Reality Goes to the Dogs in Anatomy Lab
The study of anatomy has always posed a unique set of problems for student and teacher alike. Two-dimensional images can hardly reveal the complexity of anatomical structure, while carting around dissected specimens for review of material is hardly sanitary or desirable. At the College's Anatomy Laboratory, students now have a third option - the use of virtual anatomy on portable software that enables students to review anatomy in a three-dimensional environment.
Virtual anatomy is part of an overall program to bring technology into the Anatomy Laboratory - technology that creates an innovative and effective learning environment in which students are better able to discern anatomical structures, commit details of anatomy to memory, and retrieve information for review at their convenience.
"In anatomy, we have had the textbook and written guides, work in laboratories, dissections and a few other functional materials like plastinated organs," said Dr. Ray Whalen, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and technology coordinator for the Anatomy Laboratory. "Dissections are the best way to learn anatomy, but once you're done it's not easy to reproduce the material. If you forget something from a dissection, it's difficult to regain that knowledge."
Dr. Whalen and a team of veterinary students began to work on a software program to make a "virtual canine" to aid students in their study of canine anatomy. The result of their work is an interactive software program that prepares students for their laboratories, guides them through classroom activities, and provides a review of material after laboratories so students can get a good grasp on the material they have covered.
The virtual canine allows students to view images of canine anatomy, specifically anatomy of the head, in three-dimensional detail. Using the program, they can rotate images on their computer screen, and peel away layers of virtual skin, muscle and fat to reveal hidden structures and bone. Dr. Whalen said students love the new software, the only complaint being that they would like to have additional software titles available featuring the remainder of the canine anatomy and other animals studied in the anatomy labs.
"The process of digitizing anatomical subjects is very time and labor intensive and, right now, time and money are our two primary constraints to developing additional software," said Dr. Whalen. "Our goal is to finish the canine model and then get started on an equine model as those constraints allow. I would add that it has been one of the highlights of my career to work with these veterinary students in the development of this software. They are so enthusiastic about this work, and have such a level of dedication and professionalism, that I have really enjoyed the whole process and been very proud of what they have been able to contribute and achieve."
One added feature of the software is that, over time, it may reduce the
need for animal cadavers for anatomy laboratories at Colorado State and
other research institutions. It will become one more tool to support the
College's 3-Rs policy of reduce, replace, and refine with regards to the
use of animals in teaching and research. Dr. Whalen hopes to eventually
license the software and make the software development program self-sustaining.
"Our new technology enables us to open up our venue," said Dr. Whalen. "We are no longer contained in just this building. That means we can provide education and outreach on a larger scale, incorporate distance learning into our curriculum, and provide support to students even after they have left the University."
Incorporating this type of technology into the teaching of anatomy has been Dr. Whalen's dream for the past 20 years. Pulling the money and resources together has been difficult, but with assistance from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, the Office of the Dean, and funding from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Dr. Whalen has been able to make part of his dream a reality in the last 10 years. He is hoping additional private funding may help him complete the canine anatomy software, the equine software, as well as continue upgrades in the anatomy laboratory.
"We would love to find some private support for our software development as well as the continued upgrading of the Anatomy Laboratory," said Dr. Whalen. "With additional funding, we could really make rapid progress on our objectives for a 'virtual' laboratory."
If you are interested in supporting the work of Dr. Whalen, contact Paul Maffey, Director of Development for the College. A special fund has been created to provide funding and support to Dr. Whalen's efforts in software development and technology investment. You can reach Maffey at (970) 491-3932, e-mail at email@example.com, or visit the Development Office's Web page at www.cvmbs.colostate.edu.