Virtual autopsies give students deeper look at anatomy
Video: UCF Virtual Autopsy Table Video by Jazmyne Hankerson & Caroline Glenn, Central Florida Future
Dr. Andrew Payer removes the skin of a cadaver to expose the muscular system. He then rotates the body and dissects, down to the skeleton. He looks at the heart and liver. And then, he puts it all back together.
With a new virtual-autopsy table from the California-based company Anatomage, Payer and his students at UCF's College of Medicine have the rare opportunity to supplement their studies of real-life cadavers with virtual ones. Like a giant iPad, the user simply needs to touch the screen to make incisions and isolate organs. UCF is one of the first universities in the nation to have this tool at its medical school.
"I think it's going to be like a virus," said Payer, who's been teaching clinical anatomy for 45 years. "I think when I take it down to the library and [students] find out what it is, I think we're going to have to fight 'em off."
With the table, which was purchased from Anatomage for $70,000, students can cut through layers of the body with scalpels, insert pins and look at specific diseases. Students can also click on a specific organ within the body, and the table will identify it. Within the table, hundreds of CT scans of cadavers that once laid in the College of Medicine can be called up.
"Dr. Payer said this morning, 'We all have two arms, two legs and a head, but inside we're very different; different sizes, different pathology,'" said Wendy Sarubbi, assistant vice president at UCF's College of Medicine. "And so this lets the students see the unique pathologies in their first patient."
The first patient, while already dead, is a cadaver. Sarubbi and Payer emphasized the importance of teaching the humanity side of anatomy, along with the scientific aspect. During the 17-week course, medical students are given a cadaver with only three pieces of information: his or her age, sex and last occupation. At the end of the course, the students present their autopsy reports, which Payer said are sometimes more accurate than the death certificate.
"They can not only see normality, they can see abnormality," Payer said. "It's a way of looking at anatomy that supplements to use of a cadaver with technology."
UCF also has a three-year agreement with the company; as more information comes along, the table will be updated. Payer recalled how much medical school has changed since he studied medicine.
"When I went through medical school, there was just a cadaver and some 33-millimeter slide projection images, and that was it," he said. "And now we've gone warp speed. It's amazing what the technology's able to do now."
Visiting-prospective students and physicians from around the world were in awe of the tool this past week, which Payer says is like a magnet.
But the CT scans and live cadavers in College of Medicine come right from Central Florida. Those who opt to give their bodies to science are those who teach future physicians about anatomy. The Anatomical Board of the State of Florida provides the bodies to UCF, the University of Miami and the University of Florida.
Payer said he believes every medical students, no matter what field they hope to enter, can benefit from the virtual autopsy table.
"Even if you were a general internal, you're still going to be touching and feeling and probing patients, so you have to have that 3-dimensional perspective," he said.
Caroline Glenn is the News Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at@byCarolineGlennor email her at CarolineG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.