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Credit: NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

Credit: NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

NUS Medicine School uses virtual reality to enhance learning of human anatomy

In Singapore, by the Centre for Healthcare Simulation (CHS) at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (NUS Medicine) recently launched a computer-simulated human anatomy system to facilitate the learning and teaching of human anatomy.

Established in in 1905, the NUS Medicine is the first institution of higher learning in Singapore and the genesis of the National University of Singapore (NUS). It admits 300 students to its degree programme annually and its principal missions are to educate and train the next generation of healthcare professionals, and foster research that will help to advance the practice of medicine. The launch of the computer-simulated human anatomy system is a good example of how NUS Medicine is leveraging technology to provide quality education to its students.

In addition to prosection classes, where students study and work with cadavers that have already been dissected by experts, many students also attend the elective whole body dissection course. This provides opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in cadaveric dissection. Now, this learning is enhanced when the students experience the cutting-edge virtual simulation technology of the computer-simulated human anatomy system system.

Credit: NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

Called the Virtual Interactive Human Anatomy (VIHA), the system allows students to gain hands-on experience working with human cadavers and also manipulate finely detailed, computer-generated, three-dimensional renditions of the human body and its parts.  The system supplements and complements the traditional anatomy classes that are so essential and fundamental to medical studies.

Moving from studying actual physical specimens to examining virtually simulated versions in an interactive lab, and switching again to human cadavers allows students to gain a deeper and fuller understanding of the intricate relationships among the various body structures.

“VIHA allows students to navigate the human anatomy at their own pace, reviewing and reinforcing complex spatial relationships of anatomical structures like muscles, bones, nerves, arteries, veins and organs. Animation of joint movements has also been incorporated to highlight muscle actions in producing certain movements. This helps students with visualisation and gives them a better understanding of the connection between the various structures,” explained Centre Director Associate Professor Suresh Pillai. Professor Pillai is also Senior Consultant at the Department of Emergency Medicine, National University Hospital. He added that this bridges the gap between textbook learning and dissection in an anatomy hall.

Credit: NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

Using Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and hand-held controllers, they are transported to a virtual dissection hall where they can perform localised or regional dissection on a virtual human cadaver to reveal underlying structures, layer by layer. The system’s software enables students to manipulate and mobilise joints and muscles, peel back layers of skin and tissue and peer into deeper structures like organs, blood vessels, nerves and bones. Each move can be reversed and repeated until students gain a good grasp of the relationships among the various body structures - an achievement that is not possible with a real cadaver.

The combination of hands-on training and virtual reality experience takes the teaching of Human Anatomy to a whole new level. Head of NUS Anatomy Associate Professor S T Dheen said that the blending of hands-on training with virtual reality experience has elevated the teaching of human anatomy to a whole new level. 

“Traditionally, human anatomy is taught through cadaveric dissection and use of anatomical models and prosected specimens in medical education…Although there is no substitute for cadaveric dissection in learning human anatomy, incorporating recent technological advancements like VIHA in pedagogy certainly enhances the learning process and transforms the learning environment,” said Associate Professor S T Dheen.

VIHA training is currently available for first and second year NUS Medicine students, while those from Year 3 onwards will be introduced to VIHA training progressively, with more advanced features including more interactive animation, clinical pathology and self-directed questions. There are also plans to extend VIHA to nursing and postgraduate students, and potentially surgical residents for pre-operative surgery planning and rehearsal of procedures, as well as to introduce more complex training scenarios, such as an emergency in a hospital ward or a mass casualty incident.

More complex interactive training scenarios will also be introduced in the coming months: the Centre is developing the Virtual Interactive Simulation Environment (VISE), a 3D virtual environment platform that will create life-like scenarios, such as a hospital ward emergency or a mass casualty incident. These scenarios will immerse students in challenging virtual environments, where they will learn to work as teams to manage patients, applying clinical knowledge and skills that they have learned.

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