The virtual dissecting room: creating highly detailed anatomy models for educational purposes

Marijn Zilverschoon, Koen L Vincken, Ronald L A W Bleys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction Virtual 3D models are powerful tools for teaching anatomy. At the present day, there are a lot of different digital anatomy models, most of these commercial applications are based on a 3D model of a human body reconstructed from images with a 1 mm intervals. The use of even smaller intervals may result in more details and more realistic appearances of 3D anatomy models. The aim of this study was to create a realistic and highly detailed 3D model of the hand and wrist based on small interval cross-sectional images, suitable for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching purposes with the possibility to perform a virtual dissection in an educational application. Methods In 115 transverse cross-sections from a human hand and wrist, segmentation was done by manually delineating 90 different structures. With the use of Amira the segments were imported and a surface model/polygon model was created, followed by smoothening of the surfaces in Mudbox. In 3D Coat software the smoothed polygon models were automatically retopologied into a quadrilaterals formation and a UV map was added. In Mudbox, the textures from 90 structures were depicted in a realistic way by using photos from real tissue and afterwards height maps, gloss and specular maps were created to add more level of detail and realistic lightning on every structure. Unity was used to build a new software program that would support all the extra map features together with a preferred user interface. Conclusion A 3D hand model has been created, containing 100 structures (90 at start and 10 extra structures added along the way). The model can be used interactively by changing the transparency, manipulating single or grouped structures and thereby simulating a virtual dissection. This model can be used for a variety of teaching purposes, ranging from undergraduate medical students to residents of hand surgery. Studying the hand and wrist anatomy using this model is cost-effective and not hampered by the limited access to real dissecting facilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58–75
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Biomedical Informatics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • 3D anatomy model
  • 3D animation software
  • Anatomy education
  • Hand and wrist
  • Virtual dissection


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