Microsoft HoloLens

Studying human anatomy in 3D

Richard Humphreys
7 July 2020

2 min read

Ohio-based Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) has transformed how students learn about the human body with Microsoft HoloLens technology, a self-contained holographic computer.

“We have developed a software suite called HoloAnatomy that provides students with a complete view of human anatomy in mixed reality,” said Mark Griswold, professor of radiology at CWRU. “We teach 40 to 50 students at a time in a large classroom in our new Health Education Campus. Students work in pods of four to six, standing around a virtual body.“

Since late March, however, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the campus, all 185 of the university’s first-year students have been participating in virtual anatomy classes from their homes. CWRU believes it is the first worldwide remote use of the technology.

More than 8,000 anatomical assets can be displayed in any combination to create 3D views of a region, system or individual organ. Automatic and custom labels are available, as well as the ability to highlight any object.

“We’ve done experiments with animation— watching the heart pump and the lungs breathe looks amazing in HoloLens, but this is not yet part of the HoloAnatomy software,” Griswold said. “When combined with our additional modules of radiology and physical diagnosis, we believe that our students are gaining a more comprehensive understanding of anatomy that is more relevant to their future practical professional lives.”

HoloAnatomy features a 3D slideshow that is set up on a laptop before class and “published” to groups of students. Now, those students are wearing HoloLens at home, allowing each one to see exactly what the instructor is describing. “One might hear the teacher say, ‘Observe the renal artery and follow it laterally to the kidney; notice how the artery branches before reaching the cortex.’ In HoloLens, all the students see a cursor that shows where the teacher is looking, and the students can follow along together in class as they move around the 3D body, or even look inside the holographic body.”

Student Sanjana Madishetty, 23, stood in the small office area at her parents’ home in Northville, Michigan, leaning into the 3D images to see the same structures from a new angle. “There’s such a huge difference between dissecting a cadaver and this,” Madishetty said. “Both are valuable, but with HoloAnatomy,  you can literally see through structure and then come back out and the organ is still intact. You can’t do that with a dissection, and you can’t do it at home like this!”

CWRU has conducted more than a dozen trials with medical students to assess the HoloAnatomy approach. “Our data show that students are learning at the same level or better than before, in about half of the time,” Griswold said.

Learn more about Microsoft HoloLens

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