For students who become squeamish at the idea of dissection, Trinity High School teacher Jason Porterfield has an innovative solution.
The high school has added a a state-of-the-art 3D dissection table to Porterfield’s classroom to enhance students’ understanding of human anatomy.
The life-size digital dissection table, which features an iPad-like screen, is loaded with four dissectible human cadavers – a male and female Caucasian and a male and female Asian – reconstructed in 3D models, and thousands of case studies.
“The students love it. The table gives them a better understanding about where structures are in the body because they are learning on real human bodies,” said Porterfield.
Trinity is the second public high school in Pennsylvania to use the virtual dissection table, made by Anatomage, a medical imaging company in San Jose, Calif., in its curriculum.
The table, which cost $68,000, is used in sports medicine, vet tech, AP anatomy, and other classes.
It provides views of the human muscular, skeletal, vascular, nervous and other systems.
Using their fingers, students can zoom in and out, and rotate the 3-D models, providing them with a view of the human body from countless angles.
“It’s kind of like a virtual Kennywood ride,” said Porterfield.
Or, imagine Miss Frizzle and her students driving the Magic School Bus through dense muscle tissue and navigating the liver on their way to the gallbladder.
During a recent Sports Medicine I class, students gathered around the table to identify muscles of the lower leg.
“Where is vastus medialis? Where is gracilis? Where is sartorius?” Porterfield asked, as the students pointed them out.
At one point, students cut through layers of tissue to see the cadaver’s intact ACL. Then, they pulled up a split screen and loaded the MRI of a student, Richard Mersky, who had torn his ACL days earlier while playing in a football game.
“Now, we can see what the healthy ACL should look like, and we can go in and find out where his tear is,” said Porterfield.
The group moved on to bones of the lower leg.
“I feel like I’m living in the future,” said sophomore Margaret Garcia, who hopes to be a surgical cardiopulmonary perfusionist. “Being able to see everything in such detail is amazing.”
Grace Roberts, a sophomore who has undergone spinal surgery because of scoliosis, is especially fascinated with the spine, vertebrae and discs.
“I want to be a neurosurgeon so I can help people, the way that doctors helped me,” said Roberts. “That’s why I especially like to study this.”
The students can take quizzes and complete review guides on the table.
Porterfield said students traveled to California University of Pennsylvania’s cadaver lab for a field trip last year.
“We were able to physically touch a cadaver, feel the heart, pull on muscles, touch the brain. To me, they were able to see it in real life and then we apply it here,” said Porterfield. “What’s great is if we cut (the virtual cadaver) and we make a mistake, we can just start over, whereas if we have a real cadaver and we cut it, we lose it.”
Added one student, “Plus, it smells a lot better.”
Students can examine what medical ailments the cadavers suffered before their deaths – one of the cadavers has lung damage caused by smoking – and the case studies that are downloaded include gunshot wounds and injuries suffered by a pedestrian struck by a vehicle.
Porterfield said the virtual dissection table provides students with a “huge advantage.”
“We’re very lucky to have this piece of equipment,” said Porterfield. “We have students who are going to be athletic trainers and physical therapists and doctors, and it actually gives students a jump-start on their careers.”