At Montpellier Medical University in France, researchers are using 3D scanners to create “virtual cadavers” in hopes of solving the worldwide shortage of dead bodies.
Cadavers have long been in high demand, but in recent years, the shortage has worsened. The number of medical programs is growing, so demand is going up, according to The Economist. At the same time, supply is going down because better communication means fewer unclaimed bodies. Donating is still taboo in some parts of the world, and the ideal cadaver — young, generally healthy, and intact — can be hard to find.
Researchers hope that a virtual cadaver can teach students the basics of dissection, says Guillaume Captier, a surgeon and professor at Montepellier. Once they’ve gained more experience, they can progress to the real thing.
For the project, Captier’s team created two virtual dissections: one for the neck area and one for the pelvis. For each, he performed a dissection on a real cadaver from the skin to the muscles to the arteries — eight levels in all. At every level, a technician scanned the flesh and body parts using an Artec 3D scanner. “We go layer by layer, and afterward, we put it together so the computer can help us view the entire thing,” says Captier.
Each layer of the scan took up to 10 minutes, and each dissection took a day in total to complete. “The flesh and some tissues can be quite hard to scan because of their translucency,” says Benjamin Moreno, who works for IMA Solutions (the company that operates the 3D scanner) and did the scanning. “In the future, we’re thinking of adding some material to avoid that.”
Afterward, Captier and Moreno used the Artec software to put the stacks together and correct tiny problems. Next, they plan to create dissection scans for the thigh area and the hands, and they want to have five scans ready for students to start using by the end of 2018.