How 3D Anatomy Technology Is Transforming Veterinary Education

April 15, 2021

The year 2020 was one of upheaval in education, and veterinary colleges were by no means exempt from the need to adapt to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the veterinary profession is nothing if not resourceful, and in some cases the need for social distancing merely accelerated the adoption of innovations already in play. Here is how a handful of schools are changing the way students are educated—and transforming the landscape of veterinary education.

At the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, Professor Puliyur MohanKumar, BVSc, PhD, was already investigating ways to maximize students’ access to anatomy resources based on an anticipated increase in class size. After all, the dissection lab can accommodate only so many bodies at one time. Then COVID hit, and space became even more scarce. Suddenly the future need became urgent and immediate.

Based on Dr. MohanKumar’s recommendation, and with the support of departmental leadership, the college implemented software from a company called BodyViz, developed out of Iowa State University. This program reconstructs virtual 3D animals based on clinical cases that have used computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. These models can then be virtually dissected, with students able to “cut” in different planes to access, visualize, and identify anatomical structures.

When preparing to lead a dissection lab session, Dr. MohanKumar identifies an actual case from the veterinary teaching hospital and builds an anatomical rendering based on imaging data from that case. 

“Let’s say we are dissecting the front limb of a dog and there is a bone broken or a tumor,” Dr. MohanKumar says. “We link that clinical scenario with whatever the students are dissecting. That way when they ask, ‘Why am I dissecting this? Why am I learning this thing? Why do I have to memorize this specific fact?’ This is the reason. We constantly bring it back to clinical relevance.” 

Students also get a chance to work with real cadavers—on a given day in the laboratory, half the class does actual dissection while the other half works with virtual models at special workstations, all in accordance with social distancing guidelines. But the limitations imposed by the pandemic could very well be helping these students be better prepared for practice when they graduate.

“Anatomy is not going to show up in the clinic as an embalmed animal with an open body,” Dr. MohanKumar says. “This is a living creature, and the organs are on the inside. This gives students real-life experience of appreciating anatomy using images.”

Dr. MohanKumar says his students have taken to the technology readily. “The cool thing is, this is Xbox controller–based,” he says. “These kids are so good with Xbox controllers—they started having fun the day after I introduced the technology. My second-year students are jealous that they didn’t get to use it.”

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