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Awesome Anatomy

Awesome Anatomy

November 2005

by Natalie Gutierrez and Will Sansom

Anatomy education has literally taken on a whole new dimension at the Health Science Center. Through the Gross Anatomy Teaching Enhancement Project (GATEways), a group of talented faculty and staff members is creating a multitude of ultra-modern anatomy resources for students in every discipline at the university.

"Whether students are working toward degrees in medicine, nursing, dentistry, the biomedical sciences or the allied health sciences, courses in anatomy are essential to their curriculum," said Patricia Brewer, Ph.D., assistant professor and deputy chair in the department of physical therapy and director of the GATEways project. More than 420 students enroll in anatomy courses each year at the Health Science Center.

"With generous financial support from the SBC Foundation, we are developing an anatomy learning experience that is hands-on, interactive and far more advanced than the traditional learning most students receive in the classroom," she said.

Faculty members representing each school at the Health Science Center and instructional technology experts at the university are working together on various anatomy education tools that involve sophisticated models of all parts of the human body. The models are created using a combination of traditional resources, sophisticated medical imaging, digital photography, medical illustration, video, audio and quick-time virtual reality techniques.

Plans are in place to transfer the models to Web-based databases housed in the Visualization and Simulation Center at the Health Science Center. Students will access these databases from computers, either in the classroom or from off campus. Students will use them to study and faculty members will use them to teach and test students.

"The beauty of the project is that the resources will not replace traditional classroom teaching, but will allow faculty members to enhance their teaching based on their needs as well as their students’ needs," Dr. Brewer said. "We’re preparing students for the future of health care education and practice. It’s a win-win situation for faculty and students in all disciplines."

Michael Freckleton, M.D., associate professor of radiology, is working on a similar project called Virtual Anatomy. It is also supported by the SBC Foundation. High-end CT and MRI systems in the department of radiology are being used to obtain data from living subjects. The data are converted to 3-D images with 360-degree rotation.

"This teaches relationships (such as skin with bone) in a way that we’ve never been able to do," Dr. Freckleton said. "This is not just a set of drawings, but data derived from living human beings." Dr. Freckleton and his colleagues are creating a Web-based database of the images ranging from the shoulder to the kidney. Text will be embedded with images to create a rich educational experience. The new approaches will complement but not replace traditional gross anatomy.

"The future of anatomy education is here," said Jaryd Stein, a fourth-year medical student at the Health Science Center. "This is the ‘Star Trek’ of gross anatomy. The Health Science Center is at the forefront of medical schools in the country when it comes to integrating new technology into education. The education I’m receiving allows me to develop a much greater appreciation and understanding of the human body and anatomical relationships."

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