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Virtual Vision

New digital slide system enhances study of tissue specimens

November 2005

by Jacquelyn Spruce

Thanks to a grant from the SBC Foundation, Health Science Center first- and second-year medical and dental students can now map their way through complex tissue specimens by transforming their computers into virtual microscopes.

Nan Clare, M.D., professor of pathology, senior associate dean and associate dean for academic affairs in the Medical School; Thomas King, Ph.D., associate professor of cellular and structural biology; and Frank Weaker, Ph.D., associate professor of cellular and structural biology, spent two years developing a virtual microscopy product. This year, the Health Science Center became the nationís third university to incorporate the Virtual Microscopy for the Health Professional program into its curriculum.

Virtual Microscopy for the Health Professional is a collection of digitized color slides loaded onto a portable hard drive. Students can observe a near seamless image montage of tissue specimens at numerous magnification levels without using a traditional microscope.

"Traditional glass slides fade and can vary tremendously in quality," Dr. Weaker said. "Virtual Microscopy is incredible because one good original slide is all that is needed. We can all look at the same high-quality image at the same time in the teaching laboratories."

The image displayed on the computer screen is identical to what would be seen through a microscope. It can be magnified up to 40 times, while the original size of the image remains in the corner of the screen, serving as a reference map.

  Virtual microscopy image
"Virtual Microscopy is essentially a light microscope," Dr. King said. "But unlike the traditional light microscope, Virtual Microscopy can be used by students both on and off campus and at any time of day. With this program, students can capture screen images to discuss later with an instructor or to send electronically to an instructor for structure verification."

The program has a large number of both histological (normal) and pathological (abnormal) specimens, Dr. King said. "This further strengthens the educational bridge between the first and second years of medical school."

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