Anatomy Like We’ve Never Seen It Before

Technology and the future of health education

By Toby Cosgrove, MD

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I’ve operated on tens of thousands of chests in my lifetime, but I’ve never been able to look into the rib cage from the top down. That would be a physical impossibility. Until now.

Recently, I put on a comfortable headset and viewed the chest and rib cage from this previously hidden angle – thanks to promising new technology that has the potential to transform the study of human anatomy.

Microsoft HoloLens technology creates a 3D image of the human body that appears to float in the air, right in front of you. You can reach out, and using your fingers, peel away skin and tissue and study every organ and body process in lifelike detail. You can remove individual organs and investigate their inner workings. You can see labels and explanations of what you’re seeing, as you study it. And yes, you can move your holographic model to peer into it from angles that even the most experienced surgeons would not see in anything but their wildest dreams.

As this technology is being rolled out, Cleveland Clinic and the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) are in the middle of constructing a new Health Education Campus. Since this facility has been planned around the importance of technologically advanced education, the leadership of both our institutions thought that it would be the appropriate site to explore the use of such promising technology in the medical school setting.

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CWRU was the only university chosen to pilot the technology’s potential. And that potential, it is fair to say, is considerable – as is the promise of our new Health Education Campus.

There will be no cold anatomy lab in this state-of-the-future facility. No cadavers. Students will learn from holographic bodies that wonderfully simulate actual, living patients – with pumping hearts, circulating blood, and other vital functions. Some people may miss the old fashioned anatomy lab, but I can tell you that even the most conservative deans and faculty are excited by this technology and the incredible things it can do.

Our goal for the Cleveland Clinic-CWRU Health Education Campus is to prepare students for a future that is still being imagined. By combining advanced architecture, pioneering technology, and cutting-edge teaching techniques, we will provide them the innovative education required to lead in this new era.

Dr. Cosgrove is CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic.

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Photo courtesy of Microsoft HoloLens