by Paul Brown

Since my introduction to Stanford University’s Division of Clinical Anatomy in 1998, advancements in imaging and the development of programs for technology-enhanced teaching and learning have fundamentally changed the approach to how anatomy is taught. The centuries-old techniques of lecture hall observation or hands-on dissection of both animal carcasses and human cadavers has largely given way to the use of self-guided virtual dissection of CT and MRI-generated images. The rapid advancement in image enhancement now allows user interaction such as the rotation of a body part in any direction, traveling through a vessel or airway, virtual dissection - even tactile feed-back about tissue density and elasticity. 


For many years I had a busy practice in Endodontics, a surgical speciality of dentistry, adjacent to the University, and also taught at the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry in San Francisco. In 1994, I was in an accident and dislocated my thumb. The carpometacarpal joint quickly became arthritic and despite many non-surgical and surgical attempts to remedy the resulting lack of mobility and pain, I was forced to retire. But as is often said, when one door closes, another opens. In my case, seeing a CT scan-generated 3-D image of my surgeon’s wrist rotating in space against a pitch-black background started me on the path to developing a new way to teach and learn human anatomy within the Stanford University School of Medicine, Departments of Surgery and Radiology, Division of Clinical Anatomy. 


The following chapters describe many of the unique elements within the Division’s 2-D, 3-D and 4-D collection. When I reflect back on when I became involved with the collection, some 25 years ago, I cannot help but marvel at the technological advancements that have been made, and how this progress has impacted the educational world. One can only begin to imagine what the next 25 years will yield. All of the following chapters have a common theme of digital anatomy and can be used by all educators.

Anatomage Table

The Table allows students and faculty to access anatomical information in a way that has previously been inaccessible. With a fully interactive, multitouch screen, one can dissect the body, moving through layers of tissue, or use a virtual knife to cut away and see the structures inside. We can look at the body with different types of visualizations, such as opaque hard-tissue, or as an X-Ray. The Anatomage Table, invented here by Dr. Paul Brown, is a breakthrough in visualization and interactivity and enhances students' understanding of anatomy, both in general and in clinical concepts, and allows students to explore the body like never before.   

Virtual Reality

Our early experiments in VR ultimately led to an iOS/Android app that was VR-enabled for use with cardboard viewers. Produced in conjunction with Stanford Health Care and former Clinical Anatomy staff, the app allowed users to take brief tours around different parts of the body, and was provided to visitors and patients at the Stanford Hospital.

More recently, we used VR to provide an interactive lab experience while running our Clinical Anatomy Summer Program remotely. Students could meet up in a virtual representation of our dissection lab and view and discuss 3D anatomical models.

Inside Rodin's Hands: Augmented Reality

James Chang, from the Division of Plastic Surgery,  teamed up with Paul Brown, Matthew Hasel, and Sakti Srivastava from the Division of Clinical Anatomy, and the Cantor Museum curators to create a multi-disciplinary exhibition that incorporates Rodin hand sculptures into anatomical and surgical educational programs. Featuring an augmented reality technique perfected by the Anatomy team, exhibit visitors could study the hand’s internal structures as depicted by the sculptures, using iPads. In addition, the exhibit provided details about the surgical techniques used to repair these conditions, and a brief survey of depictions of the hand in historical anatomical texts.

There are some media links here:

High tech scans reveal Rodin's hands

Inside Rodin's Hands - Al Jazeera America

Wired Magazine's Article

NPR's Interview

The Anatomical Wax Models of La Specola

The Division has worked with the Florence-based museum, La Specola, for several decades to digitize the breathtaking collection of anatomical wax models created in the 17th and 18th centuries by Italian anatomists and artists.  In an effort led by Dr. Paul Brown and Dr. Rober Chase, many of these models were photographed in stereoscopic 3D and later scanned in collaboration with Anatomage to create 3D models. 

We also created an iBook to highlight the museum and it's collection. You can get the book here.

"Stanford Division of Clinical Anatomy and Fondazione Prada exhibition of La Specola Waxes"

Fondazione Exhibition of La Specola Waxes

Prosection Library

Thanks to the generosity of donors to the Anatomical Gift Program, students are able to learn from a large collection of professionally dissected specimens.  To aid in self-study, the physical specimens are supplemented by annotated images and are being digitally scanned, in a process called photogrammetry, so that 3D models can be used for study outside the lab.