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Digital Anatomy Goes Global

CWRU meducail student using Microsoft HoloLens looking at the human body

Case Western Reserve was the world’s only institution—educational or otherwise—to demonstrate Microsoft HoloLens on stage at the company’s annual developers conference, Build.

How did we get so lucky? We’re still not entirely sure. But what we do know is that School of Medicine Dean Pam Davis and the team delivered an awe-inspiring look at the potential of digital anatomy education.

The vision for the Health Education Campus is to combine iconic architecture, innovative educational approaches, and cutting-edge technology to reimagine how we prepare future caregivers for a rapidly changing health care environment. Part of realizing that vision was an early decision to remove cadaver labs from the building plans. We didn’t know then precisely what would take the place of actual human bodies, but expected the answer would have something to do with technology.

The experimentation started with a high-tech anatomy table—essentially a giant television screen where students could look down on projections of the body as a whole, with close-ups of specific organs or areas. The approach had its strong points, but lacked an essential aspect of understanding anatomy: everything was flat, viewed in two dimensions.

And then Mark Griswold got telephone call telling him to fly to Redmond, Washington. No one could offer details—Case Western Reserve President Barbara Snyder and Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove had signed non-disclosure agreements as part of their visit to Microsoft—he just had to get there.

The rest, as they say, is the future.

Griswold introduced the idea of educational applications for Microsoft HoloLens at the 2015 Build conference. Microsoft came to Cleveland in May to shoot a video about our efforts in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic. Students, faculty and staff began building the pieces of a holographic anatomy curriculum. Then, at this year’s conference, Dean Davis and medical school developers Jeff Mlakar and Henry Eastman showed how using the device could enhance and accelerate learning. Professor Griswold was there too—albeit as a hologram himself. In addition to the roughly 5,000 people in the auditorium, another 300,000 watched live online.

What’s next? Eventually, a demonstration app in the Microsoft App store (watch the daily for an announcement of when it appears), lots more module building and, before long, more extended pilot testing of the curriculum with medical students. Ultimately, Griswold and his team hope to extend the device’s work to include education in many other subjects—as well as research.

Just like in medical school, anatomy is only the beginning.