INNOVATION

The Virtual Reality App That Could Do Away With Medical Cadavers

Mark Zuckerburg is onboard with this Australian-made Oculus Rift app.

21/10/2016 1:31 PM AEDT | Updated 21/10/2016 1:32 PM AEDT
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Just as Leonardo Da Vinci's 1500s sketches of human anatomy revolutionised early medicine, a new virtual reality app is pushing the field of anatomy into the future.

Mark Zuckerberg is spruiking an Australian-made virtual reality model of the human body that is so accurate, some predict it could do away with the need for medical students to practice on cadavers.

Instead, students would put on virtual reality goggles Oculus Rift, and start exploring the human body.

Founder Athanasios Raikos said the goal for the app, named Organon 3D, was to make the mysteries of the human body accessible to everyone, so patients considering a procedure could put on virtual reality goggles and understand their body better, or for a high school student could get an interest in medicine.

Medis Media
A still from the virtual reality app.

"High school students get so excited by using these devices," Raikos said.

"Everyone knows virtual reality is fun.

"Not everyone has access to a medical school anatomy laboratory. There are bodies there, you need body donors, it's not accessible for everyone.

"These apps are are an approach for democratising anatomy, everyone has an opportunity to learn about the human body."

He said there were ways the virtual reality model had advantages over cadavers.

"Specimens are kept in a freezer and because of that, you preserve all the texture of the human body but you can't preserve the colours -- the specimens look pale," Raikos said.

"That's why from quite early our anatomy artists drew structures with vivid colours for example red for the arteries, blue for the veins and yellow for the nervous tissue."

Yet UNSW senior lecturer in anatomy Michelle Moscova said that while VR was valuable, there were some details no amount of headset wearing could replicate.

The students learn far more from a cadaver than just anatomy. They learn respect for the human body and the patient, they learn compassion and they learn humanity. This is something that computers can't teach.Michelle Moscova

"The students learn far more from a cadaver than just anatomy," Moscova said.

"They learn respect for the human body and the patient, they learn compassion and they learn humanity. This is something that computers can't teach."

Raikos is also a former surgeon and teaches at Bond University and said he wasn't necessarily ready to let a surgeon trained exclusively in virtual reality to operate on him, but that the tool could well be a way of cutting through modern teaching methods.

"We need some sort of immersion to educate modern learners," Raikos said.

Future Publishing
So that's what the spleen looks like.

"Our students have problems in making sure they stay concentrated because they can get distracted so easily with their mobile phones, social media post notifications and all this so by putting a virtual reality headset on, it gives you a sort of isolation, you put yourself into a sort of box.

"By 2050 all these technologies -- augmented reality, virtual reality -- they will progress so much that we won't be able to realise what is real and what is not."

As for the Australian invention being part of the innovation boom, Raikos said he didn't receive any support or funding.

"I didn't seek any support because I was afraid this might fail," Raikos said.

"I knew from the beginning it would take a long time to design, we're talking 3,4,5000 models. It takes years."

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