‘Give your body to science’. An expression that is slightly overused but which, for some of us at least, still makes sense.
Medical students get to train themselves with donated bodies, to avoid making dangerous errors performing surgery on living patients. In the meantime, they can use the dead to learn all the subtleties of anatomy.
But, more and more often, medical schools are replacing real corpses with virtual versions. As reported by National Geographic, many institutions have already abandoned dissection made on a corpse in favour of a digital one.
The right to make mistakes
The reasons are numerous. The first is that virtual corpses tolerate all kinds of mistakes and allow you to do it several times to make sure you get it exactly right. But financial parameters also come into play.
‘Building a laboratory in line with government rules would cost £7 million, and a digital table costs £55,000,’ says Jeffrey Fahl to National Geographic, director of anatomy at Nevada University.
Thanks to a woman's gift
The students probably do not know how the 3D corpses they were trained on were designed, and yet the story is quite an extraordinary one: an 85-year-old woman gave her body to science, giving her permission that it be frozen and then cut into 27,000 slices, so that the obtained images become digitized.
Her name is Susan Potter and she was actually not the first to go through this kind of experiment after passing away. She is precisely the third, since 1993. But the other two people had never been digitized. Their bodies had been used to update old anatomical planks.
By gathering the different parts of Susan Potter's body, we can obtain a human body identical to reality but which appears on a touch table, making it ideal for training in conditions as close as possible to reality.
See the heartbeat
Moreover, this virtual body allows us to take a step towards augmented reality. ‘The heart does not beat in a corpse, we cannot understand how the valves work, we cannot observe the movements in real time,’ continues Neil Mehta, one of the faculty members.
These movements are reconstructed in real-life conditions on the graphic palettes and are of great use in training, for example, for heart surgery.
A combination of both techniques
But does technology like this also sign the death sentence for training on real human bodies? We are not so sure because, for now, American faculties prefer to combine the two, especially for ethical reasons.
‘On a real body, you learn professionalism, team spirit, respect for death and empathy. Things that you will never have in a digital program,’ says Sakti Srivastava, head of the department of clinical anatomy at the University of Nevada.
The learning of touch, with real skin, also seems important for the teacher who is not enthusiastic about the idea of making a clean sweep of the past. But, it is appropriate: the digital side brings a certain flexibility and many advantages.