Virtual dissection table ‘as close as you can get’ to real cadaver, students say

Technology could one day allow for simulated surgeries, experts say.

If Meghan Bowler needs to take a closer look at the cadaver in front of her, she just slides her finger across to slice it open.

The cadaver is actually a three-dimensional anatomical model on a virtual dissection table, that Bowler and her Stanford classmates were the first to test this spring quarter.

“While it’s not the real thing, it’s about as close as you can get,” she said.

The table features life-size models of the human body that can be manipulated using a touch-screen interface.

Students can zoom in on or rotate different structures, and remove individual organs. The table also can use real data from MRI and CT scans of patients.

“You can see really specifically how certain organs connect, which can be really hard to see in a cadaver,” Bowler said. “It’s very intuitive.”

The table was built by San Jose-based Anatomage, which loaned the system to Stanford to test in an undergraduate anatomy course for bioengineers.

“When I first saw it, my reaction was a simple ‘wow!’ ” said Sakti Srivastava, the chief of the division of clinical anatomy at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who teaches the course. “I’ve been imagining it for a long time.”

Srivastava has been evaluating the effectiveness of the table as a teaching tool. “It’s not a replacement for a cadaver, but it’s a nice complement,” he said.

Srivastava will continue to use the table during courses he’s teaching over the summer and hopes to introduce it into the medical students’ curriculum in the fall.