KI introduces visualization table in anatomy teaching

Published 2015-04-22 15:06. Updated 2015-12-01 13:42Denna sida på svenska

Every academic year, around 1,600 students are educated in anatomy at Karolinska Institutet. These students are now able to access a visualization table on which they can turn, rotate and make incisions into digital patients. This new tool is not a replacement for donated bodies, but is a valuable complement to them. 

Karolinska Institutet has invested in an interactive visualization table in order to further develop its teaching of anatomy. The table provides students with the opportunity to conduct virtual examinations of  three-dimensional patients. The visualization table is becoming an important complement to anatomy teaching using donated bodies in the medicine and dentistry programmes. The table will also be used in other study programmes that include courses in anatomy. Anatomy teaching in these courses has previously been based mainly on pictures and plastic models, which means that the visualization table marks a significant educational improvement.Hugo Zeberg, university adjunct demonstrates the table for Sandra Ceccatelli.

"The visualization table is an important investment in the modernisation and improvement of the quality of our teaching", says Sandra Ceccatelli, Head of the Department of Neuroscience, which is responsible for anatomy education at KI. "This instrument unlocks unique opportunities to convey fundamental knowledge of the body, involving an entirely new way to teach our students anatomy. We also believe that the visualization table may become a very exciting research tool in the future."

The visualization table, produced by Sectra, is a Swedish innovation that has garnered much international attention. It can be described, most simply, as a very large touch-screen – 55 inches – that allows the user to study three-dimensional images of scanned human bodies interactively. Using simple finger movement, the user can rotate the body, make incisions, zoom in and out, peel back layers, etc. The source images come from magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography of real human bodies.Björn Meister and Annika Östman Wernerson, Dean of Higher Education.

"The visualization table can be likened to a huge tablet computer and is controlled using similar gestures, which makes it very intuitive and easy to use", says Professor Björn Meister, Departmental Educational Coordinator for Anatomy and Histology. "Studying a real body is the best way to learn anatomy. Previously, only medical and dental students have had this opportunity, but now all students studying anatomy are afforded this opportunity."

The visualization table is intended to be used as part of all KI's study programmes that include courses in anatomy: medicine, dentistry, biomedicine, physiotherapy, psychology, dental hygiene, optometry, speech therapy, and midwifery. This involves a total of around 1,600 students per year. The table has already begun to be used on a small-scale and the plan is for it to be integrated into teaching at the start of the autumn semester.

Björn Meister believes the table has many educational benefits. "The interactivity is obviously an important component, as is the fact that it uses 3D images. It is hard to gain a three-dimensional understanding of some parts of the human body just from looking at two-dimensional images.

The ability to show and hide different layers, for example removing the muscles and nerves, is obviously very useful", says Björn Meister. "Another important aspect is the ability to study many bodies instead of just one. All bodies are different, and this allows is to demonstrate this diversity to our students.

Another advantage compared to real bodies is the ability to repeat examinations. The digital patient material is not consumed, and can be re-used any number of times."

In the long-term, Meister can also see interesting opportunities to use the table in research at KI.

"One idea which has already come up is to use the table to study microscopic materials", he says. "Exciting microscopy techniques that provide three-dimensional data have been developed and the table would be a very good way of visualising these."

Sectra's education portal allows KI to access materials from other higher education institutions with visualization tables around the world. Björn Meister hopes that KI and Karolinska University Hospital will also be able to contribute to this database in the future with their own patient cases.


Text: Anders Nilsson

Photo: Stefan Zimmerman