CWRU creates company to market its HoloAnatomy software that teaches cadaver-free anatomy

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Students learning anatomy by looking at a hologram sounds like something from a university in the far future. But that’s how it’s done right now at Case Western Reserve University.

Students put on the HoloAnatomy helmet-like display device, and a virtual-reality hologram of a human body instantly appears in front of them. The entire class sees the same display. They can zoom in and out to explore how bones and muscles fit together. They can thrust their heads “inside” the hologram to peer at interior organs.

When CWRU developed the 3D HoloAnatomy Software Suite of medical education software several years ago to teach anatomy without the use of cadavers, it soon learned there was an appetite for this technological advancement at universities around the world.

But universities are not as nimble as business startups.

So CWRU created the company Ilumis to market its HoloAnatomy software. The helmet device is manufactured by Microsoft.

“(Universities) are built to teach and learn,” said Ilumis CEO Mark Day. “You need a private sector organization to be able to (advance a new technology) as a business.”

More than 22 universities and medical centers around the country are using the HoloLens software, including Massachusetts General Hospital and Kent State University School of Podiatric Medicine.

CWRU hopes to expand that number by placing HoloAnatomy “into every graduate, undergraduate and secondary anatomy program in the world,” said Mark Griswold, a professor at the CWRU School of Medicine and faculty director at the Interactive Commons, the university’s center to advance research and education.

The COVID-19 pandemic fueled interest in HoloAnatomy, because it offered a way for students and instructors to look at the same human anatomy model without gathering in a classroom or cadaver lab, Day said. CWRU sent HoloAnatomy headsets to students’ homes.

“It was a great opportunity to demonstrate the capability of this technology at a time when it just wasn’t physically possible to be in the same room together,” Day said. “We’re fundamentally teaching students how to learn human anatomy in a whole new way.”

Lessons learned via HoloAnatomy more effective

When CWRU and the Cleveland Clinic opened the Health Education Campus in 2019, CWRU students had their first encounter with HoloAnatomy, said Erin Henninger, executive director of CWRU’s Interactive Commons.

There are other software packages that help students learn anatomy, but they are for independent study, Henniger said. HoloAnatomy is meant to be used in the classroom, where a teacher can guide students through a lesson or create a lab guide that students explore in teams.

“If a student points at (an internal) structure, their team can see where they’re pointing,” Henninger said.

CWRU found that its students learn twice as fast, and retain more information with lessons via HoloAnatomy, she said.

A 2020 study in JAMA Network Open found that 81% of CWRU students reported that the HoloAnatomy sessions were equivalent to or better than the in-person class, and nearly 60% said they preferred remote sessions to in-person classes.

HoloAnatomy can be used anywhere, because it doesn’t rely on cameras to create the holographic image. And it differs from virtual reality because it doesn’t close the user off from reality. A person wearing the headset can still see objects surrounding them.

It is essential for doctors to learn how to cut into the human body, and cadaver labs teach that skill, Day said. But dissecting cadavers isn’t the only way to learn basic human anatomy.

For instance, a student who’s curious about the diaphragm would need to cut away tissue to find it in a cadaver, Day said.

“You actually can’t even see that very well in a cadaver at all. But you can see it in the hologram perfectly well,” Day said.

Ilumis CEO Mark Day’s business background let him understand how to use Ilumis to market CWRU’s HoloAnatomy Software Suite. “My initial feeling was ‘This is really cool,’” Day said.Kim Day

CWRU acts as ‘mom and dad’ for company

Ilumis is separate from CWRU, but maintains strong ties with the university.

“They’re like Mom and Dad,” Day said in describing the relationship between company and its parent, the university.

Ilumis is a collaboration among CWRU’s Interactive Commons, Office of Technology Transfer, School of Medicine and division of University Technology, CWRU said.

The company, the exclusive licensee for HoloAnatomy software, operates out of offices at CWRU. The startup has four full-time employees, and eight Interactive Commons software developers work with Ilumis on a contract basis. Several CWRU professors are advisors for the company, but not employees.

Ilumis expects to hire as many as 40 new employees — most of them Clevelanders — in the next few months.

While CWRU is an investor in and advisor to Ilumis, the company is raising capital as an independent entity, said Day, who lives in Colorado but spends much of his time in Cleveland. He came on board as Ilumis’ first CEO this summer, after retiring from Microsoft.

Ilumis worked with Cleveland-area venture capital organizations, and CWRU alumni, to raise funding. CWRU also is an investor, Day said.

The profit that Ilumis makes stays with the company, but CWRU stands to receive dividends with other shareholders, if dividends are paid, Day said. Ilumis also pays the university a royalty fee to license the HoloLens technology.

In the future, Ilumis plans to expand the HoloAnatomy software to other medical academic subjects, such as physiology.

But don’t expect your surgeon to consult a hologram of your body before surgery anytime soon. The company is not interested in expanding into healthcare settings.

“Right now, we’re having great success just teaching schools how to teach human anatomy in a way that really hasn’t changed since DaVinci,” Day said.

CWRU HoloAnatomy

Mark Griswold, faculty director at CWRU’s Interactive Commons, holds a virtual reality helmet that allows the wearer to see a hologram of the human body. Instructors can highlight various systems, and everyone in the session sees the same image.Julie E Washington,

Julie Washington covers healthcare for Read previous stories at this link. Also:

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