By Matthew Brett

Technology is evolving rapidly and McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine is leading change in some quarters. This is certainly the case with Dr. Geoffroy Noël, who has deployed augmented reality technology in the anatomy lab with the goal of improving the quality of training for surgeons, dentists and other health professionals. The early results are promising.

Dr. Noël is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill and Associate Member of the Institute of Health Sciences Education.

Bringing augmented reality (AR) into the anatomy lab has required dedication and persistence on Dr. Noël’s part.


Improving education and application with augmented reality

A major step for Dr. Noël was collaborating with the province of Quebec; patients can now sign a waiver to release their pre-mortem scans for science and education, which are then converted into accurate 3D pre-mortem renderings.

These 3D renderings are uploaded to an AR headset and overlaid onto a cadaver, allowing pre-mortem information to complement the physical study of the human body.

“We are the first to have an agreement with government to use images like this,” said Dr. Noël. “Most body donors have images when they arrive. We are just realizing the potential of their pre-mortem scans as those scans allow you to relate to the medical history of the donor.”

One need only view students using the technology to see its impacts. Students are engaged with the technology, zooming in on a pre-mortem scan of a cancerous tumour, for example, while seeing and feeling where it is located on the body.

This allows students to gain a more accurate understanding of human anatomy and specific patient conditions. Prior to this technology, students would look at 2D pre-mortem scans on electronic devices like tablets.

The project stems from a partnership with U.S.-based company, Novarad, and their OpenSight technology, an AR headset and system designed for surgical application.

During a pilot project with the AR technology with 35 fourth-year students in the Anatomy and Surgery course, half of the students used the AR technology while a second control group used standard 2D renderings. Dr. Noël and his colleagues’ preliminary findings suggest that dissection quality and student engagement both improve when using the technology.

Dr. Noël’s commitment to exploring the use of technology to improve the quality of education is being recognized. He was named to the Faculty Honour List for Educational Excellence (2018-19) and is a recipient of the 2020 Certificate of Merit, granted by the Canadian Association for Medical Education in recognition of his commitment to health sciences education.

Going forward, Dr. Noël intends to work with the Faculty of Dentistry to study whether the technology can assist second-year students in applying a local anesthetic injection during their training.


Debate continues on future of augmented reality

The use of AR in the anatomy lab is not without its critics, with opinion falling on both extremes of the spectrum: some argue that AR should replace the use of cadavers altogether, while others find the technology a distraction from conventional teaching methods.

“The main point is there are pros and cons either way, but I think it’s good to try and understand how both AR and traditional approaches can coexist,” said Dr. Noël. “I think we have to find the right balance and the technology exists, so we should explore it.”



February 14 2020