CWRU student wearing a HoloLens looking at a heart

CWRU, Cleveland Clinic release first third-party app for Microsoft HoloLens

The first third-party app in the Microsoft HoloLens store comes not from a video game giant or 3D design leader, but instead a Cleveland-based university and hospital.

HoloAnatomy goes beyond the on-stage demonstrations that hundreds of thousands watched in person and online during the last two years of Microsoft’s Build conferences for developers. Instead of a brief glimpse of organs in a body or single look inside a translucent brain, the new app from Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Clinic allows viewers to explore at their own pace—and from any perspective.

The lone caveat? People have to wear a Microsoft HoloLens device to operate the app. In fact, the high-tech visor is required even to see the HoloAnatomy icon in the company’s online store. But once the device is donned and the app opened, viewers literally get an inside view of the body. As narrator Erin Henninger explains, the app is designed “to show you the kinds of learning HoloLens makes possible, a way to shift from centuries of dissection and 2D illustrations to a 3D systems-level view, at true human scale.”

In many ways, this holographic demonstration represents the culmination of a journey begun in the fall of 2014, when Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove and Case Western Reserve University President Barbara R. Snyder first traveled to Microsoft’s corporate campus in Redmond, Washington.

The two had made the trip to see technology so cutting edge it was not yet public; they had been told it could help the joint Health Education Campus achieve some of their aspirations for academic innovation.

“New technologies are changing almost every aspect of health and medicine,” Cosgrove said. “We are excited with the potential to advance medical education with innovative technology as well that will ultimately lead to advancements in patient care.”

From there, both institutions sent additional teams west to learn more about the emerging technology. Consensus existed the first application would involve anatomy—specifically, transformation of existing approaches involving cadavers to ones where students need only put on a Microsoft HoloLens visor to see inside the body.

Ever since, programmers, students and faculty have worked together to explore a broad range of possible educational uses for the Microsoft HoloLens. In the spring of 2015, Radiology Professor Mark Griswold appeared at Microsoft’s Build conference to explain just how great an impact the technology could have.

At Build 2016, Case Western Reserve School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis spoke from the stage while Professor Griswold appeared remotely. The approach illustrated how Microsoft HoloLens could allow faculty to provide students direct feedback about the holograms—and vice versa—even when not in the same physical space.

“As our faculty and students continue to develop and refine the HoloLens-based anatomy curriculum,” Snyder said, “they identify new ways the technology can both deepen and accelerate learning. The potential is simply extraordinary.”

A few weeks later, HoloAnatomy appeared in Microsoft’s online store, allowing anyone with access to a HoloLens device to experience exactly what Professor Griswold meant. Once inside the program, the user can use simple hand gestures to call up images to the body. At other moments, simply saying “next” will lead to the app’s next section.

Early on, for example, a full-sized transparent body appears, arms outstretched at either side. Inside is a full skeleton. It’s soon joined by arteries and veins, and then all of the body’s muscles.

“Using HoloLens,” Henninger explains, “we can explore whole biological systems, individually or together.”

If users want to examine the arm to understand precisely how the muscles and bones work together, they can approach the limb more closely, look beneath the skin and see precisely where muscles connect to bone to allow flexion, extension and other movements.

Similarly, for those who don’t yet know the organs of the gastrointestinal system, HoloAnatomy also offers labels identifying the liver, colon and esophagus. On test day, however, the labels can go blank, with students tasked to click on the rectangle pointed to a particular organ. Correct gets a green check; wrong, a big red X.

The full HoloLens anatomy curriculum is still in development, with the goal of having all of the modules complete by the time the Health Education Campus opens in the summer of 2019. The full program not only will allow students to see systems together and apart, but also in motion.

“We can look at how the heart moves or look at how the brain processes information and how information flows around in our brain,” Professor Griswold explained.

Added Assistant Professor of Anatomy Susanne Wish-Baratz: “They can see where the heart films are closing and hear the sounds.

“A click of the fingers is going to allow students to see how everything is interconnected in the body,” Associate Dean of Curriculum Amy Wilson-Delfosse continued. “HoloLens is the next big transformative change in medical education.”

View the Microsoft HoloLens and anatomy education video.

Learn more about the Health Education Campus online.

Visit the Microsoft app store.