Students at some Ivy Tech Community College campuses are getting an experience the college has never before been able to offer: working with a cadaver.

Since last semester, several Ivy Tech campuses around the state have offered anatomy classes with access to Anatomage tables, which provide digital interactive human bodies that students can dissect and reassemble on a tablet-like surface.

For medical students a cadaver, or corpse, is a useful learning tool, since they can dissect cadavers to learn about the human body. But for Ivy Tech, getting a real cadaver has never been an option. The campuses don’t have a place to store real bodies, and cadavers are expensive, said Leo Studach, program of science chair at Ivy Tech Kokomo.  

The Anatomage tables offer students the chance to interact with human bodies without the downsides of physical cadavers.

“They can do dissections and remove different parts just like you would with an actual person,” said Tammy Greene, an assistant professor at Ivy Tech Kokomo.

The tables are created using detailed images in 3 millimeter increments from real human bodies, so the images students are working with are based entirely on reality.  Students can remove layers, such as skin, muscle, and veins, to work with the digital bodies in different ways.

Unlike a real human body, the images can easily and quickly be put back together so students can start all over again. They can dissect entire limbs, make incisions and manipulate the images without the fear of destroying an expensive tool.

“If we make a mistake, we can put it back together,” Greene said.

They also can easily switch between male and female bodies, and the tables can even include images of animals, Studach said. They also can download images of bodies with specific diseases and abnormalities, giving them a broader teaching tool than one cadaver could, he added.

 “The capabilities are amazing to have for anatomy 101 students,” Greene said.

The tables cost around 80,000, Studach said, but the investment is worth it. Without the Anatomage, the anatomy students would be working with cats and pigs, which just doesn’t give them the same experience, Studach said.

“This type of background wouldn’t happen at a four-year institution, let alone a community college,” he said.

Aside from the feel, the digital cadavers offer virtually everything real cadavers do, Studach said.

“Using the different tools, you can look at the different layers, add musculature, take away musculature, look at the internal anatomy,” he said. “With a traditional cadaver you could remove the skin, remove the connective tissue, remove the muscle. Here we just do it digitally.”

Each of Ivy Tech’s 14 regions has an Anatomage table. Calvin Thomas, vice president of Health Sciences and Nursing for Ivy Tech, said the tables present an opportunity for the college to focus on 21st century experiences that will benefit students going into nursing or medical school, but it also helps any Ivy Tech student studying science.

The tables are available for all anatomy students, and Thomas said anatomy is one of the most basic courses for students studying the sciences at Ivy Tech.

“Those foundational courses are certainly helped and aided by our tools such as this,” he said.

Thomas said the school has received a positive response from professors and students. Studach said it’s too early to tell whether the tables will affect the nursing and medical industry in a large way, but Greene added that the only real difference between physical cadavers and the Anatomage tables is the feel. Aside from that, students are getting the same experiences of working with cadavers as students at other institutions, she said.

“We hope that this sort of 21st century technology will be a magnet for additional students who want to explore one of the key sectors in our Indiana economy, which is health care,” Thomas said.

Tommy Le, director of sales for Anatomage, said the tables can benefit a wide range of institutions; they even offer a smaller table for high schools. Le said the company has sold tables around the world, including to colleges, hospitals and museums.

Eventually, institutions with Anatomages may be able to 3D print the cadavers they’re working with, allowing students to work with a physical model. Le echoed Studach, saying that aside from the physical feel, the Anatomage tables offer the same benefits of a real cadaver.

Le said he’s glad Ivy Tech is having a positive experience with the tables.

“When a success story like that comes forth, it helps us be proud of what we’re doing here,” he said. “It just makes us very proud and very happy of what we’re doing. We’re making a difference.”

Education Reporter Caele Pemberton can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at caele.pemberton@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @CaelePemberton

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