Campus News

Virtual reality gives gross anatomy students new insight on the human body

Several medical students in blue scrubs wearing VR goggles.

Students in the Gross Human Anatomy course try out the virtual reality goggles. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published July 12, 2019

headshot of Stuart Inglis.
“VR takes learning to the next level.”
Stuart Inglis, instructor
Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences

Many health care providers will tell you that of all the courses they took in school, gross anatomy was, by far, the most meaningful.

Now, advanced technologies are making that experience even richer.

Along with the traditional cadaver dissections that are the mainstay of gross anatomy courses, UB health sciences students are gaining a new perspective on the human body using virtual reality (VR) tools this summer.

On Tuesday, students taking “Gross Human Anatomy” (PAS 407) donned VR headsets to see how the new tool would supplement their traditional gross anatomy lab work.

When they put on the VR headsets, students enter an immersive, 3D version of the heart, pancreas or other organ they have studied in two dimensions in textbooks and in hands-on laboratory work. They can also review a lecture on a particular organ.

“Students can’t be in the cadaver lab all the time,” says Stuart Inglis, instructor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences and the Department of Surgery in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “Virtual reality provides a powerful immersive experience that will help students review the material when they can’t be in the lab.”

Inglis says new research is demonstrating that students tend to retain material better when VR tools supplement textbook and lab learning.

“VR takes learning to the next level,” he says. “Our goal is to find out, ‘What is the most effective way to use virtual reality to educate our students?’”

The tools are being developed by UB researchers and Buffalo-based Crosswater Digital Media with funding from a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant.

The UB-Crosswater team is also working toward developing immersive medical training tools that can be used to teach new clinical and surgical techniques to medical professionals.

The project is part of a broader, multidisciplinary effort taking shape in UB RISE (Research, Innovation, Simulation, Structure, Education, Engineering) that is underway in the Jacobs School, focused on an innovative vision for studying the human body. The approach takes advantage of both hands-on and virtual techniques from advanced imaging to computational methods.

“We are thinking ahead about how technology can increase the understanding of what it takes to be a doctor,” Inglis says.

In addition to Inglis, the project team includes John Tomaszewski, chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences; Ray Dannenhoffer, associate dean for support services and colleagues in the Jacobs School; and Tara Kruse, medical content director, and Armin St. George, chief executive officer, both of Crosswater Digital Media.