Fisk University Creates a Virtual Human Cadaver Lab Using the ENGAGE Social VR Platform

Fisk University, a private, historically Black university located in Nashville, Tennessee, will launch a virtual human cadaver lab for its pre-med and biology students this fall. The cadaver laboratory will use the social VR platform ENGAGE, in a partnership with Fisk University, HTC VIVE, T-Mobile, and VictoryXR (an educational content creator company using ENGAGE as a platform).

According to the official news release:

Inside the lab, students will examine the internal organs of various human systems, and the professor can even remove the organs from the body and pass them around for students to hold and open. Students will have the ability to enlarge the organ to a size large enough where they can even step inside to better learn how it works. In addition to organ systems, the cadavers will also include complete skeletal and muscle structures.

“With this cadaver lab, our pre-med students will no longer need to rely on other universities for advanced anatomy and biology classes,” said Dr. Shirley Brown, Dean of Fisk University. “Virtual reality technology takes our university to a level equal to the most advanced schools in the country.”

In the past, Fisk University has not purchased cadavers due to the high cost and maintenance. But with a virtual cadaver lab, the university can offer state-of-the-art scientific learning that’s affordable and easy to maintain. Virtual cadavers do not degrade, and over time additional specialties can be added to the software such as surgical procedures, comparative learning between human and animal as well as microbiology at the cellular level.

Here’s a two-minute promotional video for the project:

Tony Vitillo (a.k.a. SkarredGhost), an Italian man whose blog, The Ghost Howls, often has reviews of products and interesting news reports about the VR industry, paid a visit to the virtual laboratory and reported:

The…costs to own a cadaver lab is in the order of magnitude of millions of dollars. Not all universities can afford that. There is at the moment a slightly better alternative, that is using ultra-realistic synthetic cadavers, that are also able to simulate some motions of the human body (e.g. the heart pumping), but the cost of each one of them is $60-100,000. This means that to own them a university must invest much money anyway.

We all know that virtual reality can replicate real objects pretty well, so VictoryXR had the idea of trying to reproduce a cadaver lab in virtual reality: apart from the fixed cost for the 3D elements, this laboratory would scale pretty well with the number of students and would need almost no maintenance cost. This is a very smart solution to make education more accessible for medicine students. Thanks to this, many more universities would be able to afford to have a virtual cadaver lab, even in non-wealthy countries. We always talk about VR being able to democratize education, and this is one bright example of how it can do that.

Students assemble a skeleton puzzle in Fisk University’s virtual human cadaver lab

Tony came away from his brief demo favourably impressed:

I had just a short demo with the virtual lab, and I think that it is a good start for Fisk University and VictoryXR. I don’t think that at the moment it can replace the real experience with a cadaver because you miss all the tactile sensations, the weight, and also the creep of having a real organ in your hands. But it can be a good substitute to start learning about the human body, to observe the organs in detail, to start getting confidence with having a bone or a part of the body of someone else in your hands. It could be able to offer a good course, and after that, maybe the students can have just a few final lessons with real corpses in another location. It is a good way of giving value to many medicine universities not only in the U.S. but in the whole world, especially the ones that can’t afford to have real or synthetic cadavers for tests.

What impressed me the most is the potential that this solution can have in the future. There are things that VR can give to students that are hardly possible in real life. The fact that you can enter with your teacher inside an organ and examine it both at macro and micro level is one amazing thing for instance. The possibility of organizing minigames (like the puzzle) that are engaging and improve the learning efficiency via interactivity is something that VR enables and that would be too creepy to do in real life. The possibility of doing many simulated surgeries on the cadavers with the possibility of repeating every operation at no additional cost is another cool thing. 

Studying the muscles of the human body in ENGAGE

Thanks to Chris Madsen/DeepRifter of ENGAGE for the heads up, and Tony Vitillo/SkarredGhost for his report and pictures! You can read Tony’s review in full here, and I strongly recommend you follow his blog as well as my own!

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