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!

FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery: A Brief Introduction to a Multimodal Virtual Reality Platform for Training Surgeons

Fundamental Surgery is a VR platform by a company called FundamentalVR, consisting of several components, and a sterling example of social VR used for a serious, practical purpose: the training of surgeons. The training program has been accredited by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) and the Royal College of Surgeons England.

Here’s a one-minute video overview of all five components of Fundamental Surgery:

The components are:

  • HapticVR: deep simulation and procedural surgical rehearsal with kinesthetic haptic feedback (you can see a bit of this in the first video up top);
  • @HomeVR: procedural walkthrough, anatomy and environment familiarization and testing, using a standalone VR headset;
  • Teaching Space: a social VR-based virtual training space (see image below);
  • Data Insights: a central data dashboard to track progress; and
  • MultiuserVR: a collaborative/social VR platform for surgical training (see video below).

This is an animated GIF demonstrating the Teaching Space, complete with a shared whiteboard:

VRScout reported on Fundamental Surgery last September:

Teaching Space [is] an unlimited multi-user virtual classroom designed to help medical schools around the world who’ve been impacted by the pandemic; a virtual space where they’re able to get that crucial hands-on training while working other students in a collaborative virtual environment.

COVID-19 has presented big challenges in the medical field when it comes to surgical training. In many cases, it has completely disrupted traditional training programs, which have always relied on actual face-to-face classroom environments. Zoom and Skype conferencing do provide alternative learning environments, but they’re limited. 2D platforms can’t fully replace the teaching and learning opportunities offered by in-class training.

This new VR learning space provides a safe environment for instructors to meet with trainees, no matter where they are located.

The virtual classroom environment includes a virtual whiteboard that instructors can use to present additional notes as they discuss procedures with their class. From there you can hop on over to Fundamental Surgery’s virtual operating room where you can run demos of surgeries and get even more hands-on experience. 

Here’s a short video showing you what the MultiuserVR surgical experience looks like:

In addition, surgeons in training can take their lessons home with the @HomeVR program:

@HomeVR expands the Fundamental Surgery platform, offering an easy route for residency programs to integrate the latest educational technologies into their curriculums. It supports consistency in training delivery and assessment across a cohort, and can be used to enhance the effectiveness of an institution’s curriculum…

The @HomeVR product is used on standalone headsets and can be taken home to use whenever and wherever the user would like, providing flexibility of learning. The @HomeVR product serves as a great introduction to the HapticVR product, which supports full skills development.

As the VRScout article states,

Think of FundamentalVR’s medical training system as a ‘flight simulator’ for both medical students and their instructors. If you’re going to make a mistake, this is the environment to do it. Because the experience is fully immersive—using realistic audio, video, and haptic feedback—the emotions that you experience are real.

Who knows? The next time (God forbid!) you go under the surgeon’s knife, she might have had part of her training in virtual reality!

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

For more information about FundamentalVR’s Fundamental Surgery product, visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or check out their videos on YouTube (there’s also a ton of videos here on the Fundamental Surgery website). And I will be adding Fundamental Surgery to my ever-growing comprehensive list of social VR and virtual worlds.

Oxford Medical Simulation: A Brief Introduction

Oxford Medical Simulation (OMS) is an educational virtual reality platform for training healthcare professionals in world-class patient management using virtual patients, without risking lives. Here’s a video that explains the concept briefly:

This is one of those environments where the virtual patients have that sort of creepy, uncanny valley aspect to them: realistic looking, but something is not quite right (to me, it’s the eyes; real eyes are slightly translucent, as I wrote about here, not opaque like billiard balls):

That’s not creepy, that’s not creepy AT ALL

Despite the off-putting uncanny valley avatars, OMS has racked up a truly impressive list of clients, including the National Health Service of the U.K. and (of course) the University of Oxford:

Oxford Medical Simulation offers not only on-site VR training, they also offer distance learning for medical professionals. In fact, the recent global coronavirus pandemic has been an unexpected opportunity for the company to promote their platform, with OMS offering free distance training to healthcare providers in three countries:

We appreciate how hard it is to deliver simulation and clinical education at the best of times, let alone during a crisis. As simulation educators, the team at OMS have experienced the chaos caused by last-minute clinical cancellations and the need to rapidly deliver simulation to fill the gap.

This same phenomenon is now happening on a global scale. In response, OMS immediately offered the OMS Distance Simulation platform free across the US, Canada and the UK as of March 16th, 2020.

Since May 16th, over 50 institutions – with over 17,000 learners between them – have signed up. Many have started utilizing the platform already and many more will start over the coming days. This is being done across all levels of medicine and nursing and for many different use cases:

Nursing programs (BSN and NP), unable to deliver clinical placements; 
Medical programs (DO and MD), fast-tracking their learners for clinical practice;
Hospitals, up-skilling clinicians moving between departments;
Health systems, rapidly bringing in new nurses and retraining clinicians returning to practice.

Aside from the generous offer of free courses for doctors and nurses, no pricing information is provided on their website for the platform, just a contact form to ask for a sales representative to contact you (and I’m quite sure that this platform is not cheap!). If you want more information on OMS, please visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The other thing that I cannot seem to figure out, either from the website or the promotional videos, is whether or not OMS is truly social VR. Can you share these experiences with other avatars at the same time, like a group of doctors and nurses working as a team on a virtual patient during surgery, for example? Because both Road to VR and well-known VR YouTuber Nathie both lumped Oxford Medical Simulation in with dozens of other social VR apps in their overviews (which I blogged about here), I am going to make the same assumption that they obviously did, and I will be adding OMS to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual world platforms.