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virtual and mixed reality

Transforming Anatomical Education with Virtual and Mixed Reality – Case Touch of Life Technologies

With Varjo’s human-eye resolution virtual and mixed reality technology, learners can take full advantage of Toltech’s real anatomical imaging to observe and interact with the human body in photorealistic 3D.

Learn human anatomy in photorealistic 3D

Touch of Life Technologies (Toltech) has been improving healthcare through education technology since 1998. Founded by research, clinical and teaching faculty, the Toltech team has been creating pioneering virtual teaching and training tools from real anatomical datasets long before the advent of VR and AR technologies.

Today, the Toltech team provides virtual anatomy education and creates training environments that allow medical students and professionals to explore real human anatomy using immersive 3D visuals. Compared to learning from textbooks or 2D and 3D anatomical illustrations and models, using real anatomical imaging in 3D has significant benefits for learning.

Now, with Varjo’s human-eye resolution virtual and mixed reality, learners can take full advantage of Toltech’s real anatomical imaging to observe and interact with the human body in photorealistic 3D.

Key benefits of Varjo’s VR/XR and Toltech:

  • Understanding key concepts in seconds versus minutes
  • Key structural details can be clearly visualized and understood
  • Increased learner engagement improves retention
  • Unlimited repetitions with real anatomical specimens
  • Scalable learning that can be deployed anytime, anywhere
  • Student perception of complexity is reduced

Challenge: Limited resources for anatomy education

Cadaveric dissection has always been the gold standard for anatomy education. Yet learning from real human specimens has been inaccessible to most healthcare students. And even for programs with access to dissection, that access is limited to a lab environment and often only in the first few years of a student’s studies.

Artistic “3D” depictions of the human body and visualizations of clinical data are widely used to address the lack of access to real human cadavers. The problem is, all of these “3D” presentations are displayed on 2D screens and in textbooks. They also lack either the realism of coming from an actual human body or the color and texture of real tissue.

The adoption of VR/XR in anatomy education has been slow. Using extended reality in anatomy education started as far back as the 1950s with stereoscopic images on cardboard discs in a View-Master. But still, to this date, virtual and mixed reality are not yet widely utilized in anatomical instruction despite the inherent benefits provided by true 3D visualization.

Greg Spitzer, COO of Toltech, believes this is due to the lack of suitable hardware and software technologies to provide a high-quality, realistic, yet easy-to-use environment with broad accessibility for widespread adoption. The key challenge is, our medical knowledge has increased tremendously over the past 30 years, but the time dedicated to anatomy education has decreased. “That’s why getting concepts across quickly, in context and with broad accessibility, has great value,” Spitzer says.

Solution: Learning human anatomy from photorealistic 3D datasets

To meet the needs of medical schools and institutions, Toltech has developed a comprehensive learning tool called the VH Dissector. The software platform allows medical students to interact with correlated 3D and cross-sectional views of over 2,000 anatomical structures. The human body can be explored as it is in real life – in all three dimensions.

“In anatomy education, the addition of depth by using VR provides a much clearer understanding much more quickly. For example, when you put on a headset, compared to picking up your iPad, you can look at the vascular supply for the abdomen and clearly see the pathway of each vessel, understanding key concepts in seconds versus minutes,” Spitzer says.

And now, with Varjo’s virtual and mixed reality headsets, learners can observe even the smallest structures of the human body in human-eye resolution (at over 60 pixels per degree). The superior visual quality of Varjo headsets supercharges the real-life datasets in the VH Dissector learning platform.

“With Varjo, you get great resolution, and the high image quality and contrast raise the experience to the next level, bringing our datasets to life,” Spitzer says. “Students can just forget that they're wearing a headset.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced educators and learners to adapt to new technologies, and Spitzer believes this will accelerate the adoption of immersive tools in schools. “The use of VR/XR is growing rapidly. It is going to be a tremendous part of the future of medical education in the next five years.”

Fusing virtual and physical: Benefits of mixed reality

According to Spitzer, using Varjo’s mixed reality to teach anatomy has even more benefits than full VR. With video pass-through mixed reality, learners can interact with life-sized virtual bodies and get a 3D understanding of the human anatomy – all in the context of the real world.

“With the Varjo headset, you can see your colleagues, clinical tools such as ultrasound machines, and even perform dissections while simultaneously viewing high-fidelity virtual anatomical specimens in same the room without any loss of image quality. Optical see-through AR-based solutions lack the fidelity and contrast needed for details virtual anatomy. With Varjo, you get the best of both worlds, superb visual quality, and integration with your physical environment,” Spitzer says.

VR/XR decreases time to comprehension & engages students

Early research shows that using high-resolution VR/XR for anatomy education has multiple benefits for learning. One of the most quantifiable advantages is the decreased time to understanding. Using virtual reality not only helps students learn faster, but they also become more engaged with the material.

Furthermore, virtual and mixed reality tools have a clear advantage for developing a deep understanding of anatomical relationships. With the VH Dissector, students can trust that each anatomical structure down to the smallest nerve is where it should be, and they can repeat learning exercises as many times as needed. With traditional cadaver dissection, this is not possible.

According to Spitzer, however, immersive technology is not replacing the use of cadavers in anatomy education. Instead, VR/XR devices provide a complementary and scalable learning solution for medical schools and institutions alike. Virtual and mixed reality headsets are portable, and they can be delivered to anybody, anywhere. “Whether students are in the lab, at school, in residency, or at home, learning is ubiquitous. Virtual reality and mixed reality allow any learner to have access to the various levels of anatomical education, wherever they are.”

Want to learn more about using VR/XR for anatomy education?

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“Students seem to enjoy the learning significantly more with VR/XR than with other methods. Their perception of difficulty decreases,” Spitzer explains.

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