Anatomage Table at ASU one of only three in Arizona — and only one used by undergrads
The challenge of learning human anatomy and physiology can be daunting for many undergraduates: identifying all 206 bones and their every bump, notch and groove; the 320 muscle pairs; the structures and associated tissues of all of the body’s other organ systems — and articulating how all those parts and systems miraculously work together.
To help students master this material, Arizona State University's College of Integrative Sciences and Arts is integrating an innovative visualization tool, the Anatomage Table, into the anatomy and physiology learning experience at the Downtown Phoenix campus.
Adopted by many of the world's leading medical schools, the table is one of only three in Arizona and is the only one to be used in an undergraduate program (the others are used in a graduate program at Northern Arizona University and at Mayo Clinic School of Medicine).
“About 2,000 undergraduate students will engage with the technology in our beginning and advanced anatomy and physiology courses over the course of a year,” said principal lecturer Richard Bauer, who has headed up the faculty of Science, Math and Social Science in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts since the university opened its Downtown Phoenix campus in 2006.
Bauer’s faculty serves students in all of ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus colleges, providing foundational and general-studies courses needed by majors in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, the College of Health Solutions, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.
“The majority of the students who take these courses want to enter health-related professions, and this tool will help to more fully prepare them, nicely complementing the anatomical models, texts, plastinatesDonated tissue in which polymers have replaced body fluids. and cadavers,” Bauer said.
Like a textbook come to life
A month into the spring semester, as the Anatomage technology has begun to be integrated into lab work, the faculty, teaching staff, and students are excited about the table’s features and capabilities.
“The clarity of the images on the table screen is super, like that of a textbook but completely 3-D,” said senior Jessica Lehman, a nursing major who is in her second year working as an instructional assistant in the 200-level anatomy and physiology lab sections. “As a user you have full control of where you move. You can click through each layer of the body, removing one system at a time, or look at an entire system at once. You can choose to searchGet a feel for the experience of using the Anatomage visuals at http://anatomagetable.com. by organ, by body system or by name of a structure.”
Having this additional touchpoint helps students understand context and establish the content in long-term memory, noted lecturer Jeff Kingsbury.
“We all learn in different ways,” Kingsbury said. “And being able to rotate the body from any angle to see all perspectives, students discover for themselves, and can better visualize, the connectedness of body systems and how the function of a structure dictates the anatomical form.
“In thinking about the job of the lungs,” he continued, “with the table we can zoom in to illustrate how the composition of lung tissue enlarges the surface area to impact the whole system.”
Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now
Sustainability, access and repetition are other benefits of using the table.
For Kingsbury’s advanced dissection students, the table provides some rehearsal context and a great in-between medium between plastinates and cadavers.
“The very first day that we were going to be making cuts we opened up a body on the Anatomage Table and we were able to practice the envelope-shaped cuts we’d be making to open up the rib cage,” said sophomore Kacey Cavanagh, a nursing major. "We were all very nervous about cutting into an actual body, so that was very helpful to see."
The table also helps those unable to do the dissections.
“Some students, because of religious or cultural reasons or past trauma, can’t work with cadavers," noted Bauer, "and so the table also accommodates their learning.
“Physical cadavers have their limits,” he continued. “You can only slice into a body once. Students can slice, if you will, into the digital cadavers a gazillion times. Cadavers can be very messy, and they deteriorate over time. Because of preservation and cleaning techniques it can actually be easier to see some anatomical features in 3-D in the digital environment.”
Junior Kelly Schock has seen this phenomenon firsthand as an instructional assistant for the BIO 494 advanced practicum in human dissection.
Part of her role involves guiding dissection students “to make sure the prosections for BIO 201 and 202 students to observe are meticulously presented and labeled, so that beginning students have access to a near-perfect specimen when viewing a structure for the very first time,” she said.
“The way that fat forms over muscles and organs can hide some structures. Veins, arteries and the lymphatic system are empty and flatten out, and other superficial structures may not present well in a cadaver or may inadvertently ‘go missing’ during the removal of material,” Schock explained. “The cadavers are soaked in a solution to make sure they’re clean enough to handle. You know how your skin gets when you soak in the hot tub for a while? It’s not in its natural state.”