A startup Scottsdale company hopes to revolutionize medical education by developing a software program that might eliminate the need for cadavers in training physicians and surgeons.
4D Anatomy has developed a program that allows students to use their personal computers to view highly realistic images of the human body and peel away layers to see internal organs and body structures. The developers of the interactive system say the patent-pending program is unique because it allows the student to use the computer's mouse to pan around and through the structures while viewing a nearly lifelike dissection of the human body. Also, three-dimensional depth of field can be created by stereoscopy - wearing special glasses connected to the computer.
"Kids in medical school today want something to put on their iPod," said Rodney Brandt, marketing executive for 4D Anatomy. "Virtual reality will be a must, and this is the first step toward that type of technology."
So far, the 2-year-old company has completed an atlas of the human head and neck, which was accomplished by taking a series of photographs of an actual human cadaver that had been dissected. The not-for-the-squeamish images were captured using a camera system called NeuroArc, which was developed by 4D Anatomy founder Dr. Attila Balogh.
It renders the images from all angles, which allows the viewer to pan and tilt the pictures.
Within two years, the company hopes to complete NeuroArc scans of the entire human body, which will be made available to medical schools and their students via online subscription.
To accomplish that, the Arizona Department of Commerce has awarded the company a $5,000 grant from lottery money to help the firm pursue larger grants from the federal government to fund the work.
"4D Anatomy is doing some very unique things," said Sandra Watson, Department of Commerce senior director. "They are developing technology to advance the training of medical students, which is an area in which we are focused. It's an area where the state is looking to grow."
The idea for the project was developed by Balogh, a 36-year-old neurosurgeon from Budapest, Hungary, while he was working on a three-year fellowship at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. It came to him while he was looking at Web sites that allow apartment hunters to virtually tour the interior of units to decide which ones they want to rent.
While animations and simulations of the human body were available online and on discs, there was nothing that offered a similar interactive tour of the human body in lifelike detail, he said. "The potential this technology offers for studies in surgical procedures and pathology is astounding," he said.
Cadavers have been used to increase knowledge of the human body dating back to the time of ancient Egypt. Many medical schools still use them, and cadaver dissection has been considered almost a "rite of passage" for young doctors in training.
But cadavers have disadvantages. They are expensive to store, and once the dissection is complete, they have no further value. And usually only one cadaver is available for a class of 20 to 30 students. Virtual-reality depictions of the human body, on the other hand, can be reused endlessly by any student with a computer, thus providing the fourth dimension - time, Balogh said.
4D Anatomy officials said they have formed a partnership with Primal Pictures, a British-based company that is a large distributor of anatomy software, to distribute the product to plastic surgeons.