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Cyber-Anatomy lets med students swap cadavers for holograms

Cyber-Anatomy Med uses 3D models to help instructors and students get a look inside the human body.

Iowa City-based Cyber-Anatomy, which creates interactive 3D anatomical models, recently partnered with zSpace, a holographic computing company from Sunnyvale, Calif., to create interactive, holographic images of human cadavers.

“In this case, it was very exciting for a high-tech company from the Silicon Valley to reach out to an Iowa company because of the technology that we had developed,” said Cyber-Anatomy president Rich Lineback of zSpace’s involvement. 

Lineback said he’s excited about the collaboration between the two groups and that a full release of the new product is planned for later this month.

Cyber-Anatomy was founded in 2006 by Karim Malek as a project to create realistic, virtual cadavers for Middle Eastern medical schools. Born in Egypt and raised in Jordan, Malek––now the director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Computer Aided Design––understood all too well the difficulties many Middle Eastern medical instructors face when it comes to obtaining cadavers. In accordance with Islamic religious customs, many Muslims believe in burying the dead within the first 24 hours, meaning that medical instructors sometimes must import cadavers.

While Lineback admits there’s “no real substitute” for lab work on a physical cadaver, he notes the virtual interaction has its advantages.

“Whereas in a classroom you would have a 3D whiteboard or a 3D projector that would show our images, the zSpace device allows the user to sit in front of it with a stylus and really immerse themselves in the dissection experience,” Lineback (right) said. 

After years of meticulously mapping systems of the human body, Cyber-Anatomy released its first product, Cyber-Anatomy Med. The 3D software allows instructors and students to interact with elements of the human body––rotating, peeling and dissecting––without getting their hands dirty. The software quickly grew in popularity, showing up in classrooms in 25 medical schools internationally, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago.

The now 12-person team then released Cyber-Science 3D, which included lab assistance and virtual dissections for biology classrooms at the high school and undergraduate level––no need to worry about handling a formaldehyde-soaked frog or fetal pig anymore.

Now, with the help of zSpace’s 3D holographic hardware, Cyber-Anatomy is jumping off the projectors and into students’ hands. When connected with the zSpace platform, Cyber-Anatomy users receive an authentic first-person experience while interacting with anatomical images. 

“It works to either replace cadaver training or to augment it because there are many things you can do better on a workstation than you can do with a cadaver,” Lineback said. 

With head-tracking glasses, a stylus and a display, students can manipulate objects like they could with Cyber-Anatomy’s other products. The main difference is the level of interaction or the immediacy of the object.

Lineback says another draw is Cyber-Anatomy’s price tag––cadavers are expensive and so is maintaining labs to support them––since virtual cadavers don’t need to be replaced or stored.

“Basically, people can get one unit for much, much cheaper than they could get one cadaver,” he said.

 Watch Cyber-Anatomy technology in action through this video overview of the product:

Credits: Product photo from Cyber-Anatomy.comRich Lineback photo from University of Iowa Center for Computer Aided Design. Cyber-Anatomy video from YouTube

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