Digital dissection comes to MCC's biology department

CRYSTAL LAKE – Marla Garrison is ready to encourage her students to slice, dice and dissect human bodies as never before.

Well, almost human bodies.

Garrison, a biology instructor at McHenry County College, will unveil the Anatomage Table – a virtual, interactive dissection table – to her students on the first day of the semester Monday.

The new technology will allow students to inspect images of real human cadavers, from nerves and tissue to skeletal systems and organs.

Students will rotate, dissect and manipulate the virtual cadaver with the touch of their fingers and in ways real cadavers could never be used.

“They haven’t had the opportunity to visualize the human body ever to this extent with so many different levels, angles and orientations,” Garrison said. “Even when you have cadavers, you are limited in opening up all the areas of the body. That’s what this does.”

In the past few weeks, Garrison has given other instructors tutorials on the virtual cadaver table that could fit right into an episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” as she cuts bodies in half with a swipe of her finger, zooms in on vital organs and rotates virtual bodies to get a bird’s-eye view of the inside of a skull.

Garrison said the teaching possibilities are plentiful as images of diseases ranging from left adrenal masses to pancreatic cancer can be uploaded into the table’s library to challenge students to make a diagnosis.

“It’s going to be a remarkable perspective for students,” she said. “They can do exams, quizzes, diagnostics, dissections and case studies all on this one table.”

The technology – piloted at Stanford University – is a more cost-effective addition to the science department than originally proposed. Garrison said a $250,000 lab expansion was in the works that would have allowed for more cadavers and cat specimens to be housed for inspection and dissection, but because of space and ventilation issues, instructors proposed the $60,000 table as an alternative.

After exploring the basics of the machine, Garrison is confident it will be a more versatile and widely used addition to the program than the lab expansion.

She already is thinking of partnerships with local hospitals that would allow the college to upload images to the table of patients to show students some of what they will see in the field. Local physicians also could use the machine to show patients an inside look at diseases such as cancer and how they plan on treating it.

High schools may be incorporated through workshops and other classes.

“We’re the first community college in Illinois to have this technology,” she said. “I think it can be a remarkable resource for the community.”

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