Recent technologic advances have enabled the creation of virtual resources for teaching human and animal anatomy. Such programs are typically intended to complement or replace traditional teaching methods, such as cadaver-based dissection and 2D textbook illustrations.
While software-based programs for human anatomy, such as the Visible Human Project, are now incorporated into most medical school curricula, the veterinary community is currently working to offer similar resources for its students.
In 1999, the Visible Animal Project was created, which features a 3D database of canine trunk anatomy specifically designed for veterinary training. In 2003, Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences created the Virtual Canine Anatomy program offering high-quality cadaver images to supplement the school’s first-year anatomy courses. The program has since been implemented into veterinary school curricula around the world. However, none of the currently available virtual anatomy tools offer a fully detailed, interactive, 3D rendering of the canine head.
In response, researchers at the University of Glasgow and North Carolina State University used 3D modeling techniques to create a new, dynamic tool for potential use in veterinary curricula. Unlike purely virtual sources, the creators aimed to provide an augmented reality experience, which “enhance[s] real world experience with virtual aspects.” They recently demonstrated proof of concept for the tool in PLoS One.
CT and MRI Scans: 3D Model Building Blocks
To start, the authors used CT and MRI scans of the canine head to create highly accurate 3D models of the skull and brain, respectively. Slices of each type of scan were first segmented to construct basic models, and the creators tagged important anatomic landmarks (such as brain sulci and gyri) in each segment.
Next, they used various software tools to assemble the sliced skull and brain images, smooth out image irregularities, and give the finished models a seamless appearance.
Creation of a User-friendly Interface
Once the 3D models were assembled, the team worked to create a user-friendly way to interact with the images and explore detailed educational content. Information panels were assigned to each anatomic landmark to indicate key knowledge points, such as typical lesions and gross signs associated with certain foci, thus helping the user to build clinical skills while learning anatomy. Each panel also included links to offsite resources for users to access additional information.
Finally, the creators designed additional interactive features to enhance use of the program on a touchscreen smartphone. Namely, the app allowed both the brain and skull to be fully rotated in all 3 axes by touching and dragging the images.
The Next Step
While not yet commercially available, the program’s next step is to be validated by veterinary neurologists and students, the creators stated. They also emphasized that, as the program was generated using readily available software programs, it could easily provide a “basic recipe” for others to create similar virtual content for other aspects of veterinary medicine.