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Why Cadavers are Superior to Computers at Anatomy Research

In a world ruled by cutting edge technology, is having the real thing still an advantage? New research indicates that trying to master the complexity of human anatomy will do better when working with cadavers as opposed to a computer simulation program. In every level of anatomical research, whether it be at the medical device training level or the university level, recent studies prove cadavers beat out computers in a learning environment.

Working with Cadavers

Universities recognize the need for cadavers when educating students, and this same concept is making its way to surgeons and physicians learning about specific devices or procedures. A 2009 study conducted by the University of Cincinnati found that cadavers are a necessity in training that involves endovascular surgery, for example, because fresh tissue offers the perfect environment to master these skills.

However, as digital technologies get more and more advanced every year, there's a growing movement to rely solely on these simulations instead of cadavers. Medical schools in Australia and the United Kingdom no longer use cadavers, instead relying on simulation-based instruction.

The problem is that no computer simulation can offer the same experience as fresh tissue, especially when supplemented with a system such as the Pulsatile Anatomical Trainer. The PAT perfuses cadaveric specimens to mimic a working circulatory system, meaning medical professionals and students experience not only real anatomy, but working physiology, as well.

Cadaver vs. Computer Simulation

The September/October edition of Anatomical Sciences Education features a study that compares student learning using a cadaver versus a multimedia computer simulation program. The researchers monitored an undergraduate anatomy course with 233 students. One section of the class learned on a cadaver, another on a computer learning system. Both were tested on cadavers.

  • Students learning on the cadaver scored 16 percent higher on the identification test
  • Students learning on the cadaver scored 11 percent higher on the function test

The educators found the higher score in the function, or explanation, portion of the test, surprising since the computer simulation does a better job of showing the physiology. After studying the data, the study authors concluded that students get a better overall understanding using real human anatomy rather than digital representations.

Synthetic Cadavers

Computer simulations aren't the only technology in the marketplace for surgical research. Synthetic cadavers are replica cadavers that simulate tissue with plastic, and the University of Arizona recently traded in real human cadavers for these synthetic cadavers.

While these are useful tools for the industry, it's difficult for them to account for the myriad of complexities that comprise the human body. A 2012 study comparing cadavers with synthetic joint models showed that "the use of cadavers seemed to be superior to synthetic anatomic models."

Why Cadavers Matter for Post Graduate Training

A surgeon never really stops learning, because every year new devices and tools hit the marketplace. That means hours of practice to master a complex technique or training to use a new device. This is time well spent, because medical advancements improve patient outcomes. Given their busy schedules, medical device professionals need to offer the most effective and realistic training environments possible, and research is showing that cannot be found behind a computer screen.

Platforms like the PAT, which merges fresh tissue with manual perfusion, enhance the training even further. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery showed that perfused cadavers were an essential tool for surgical training.

The researchers simulated 38 procedures using a perfusion system and found it offered a more realistic environment for training. The use of this model improves the surgeon's ability to master a technique and understand potential associated complications such as bleeding.

Using modern technology to supplement medical education will better showcase new devices or tools by enhancing the training model. The evidence does prove that cadavers are superior to computers for anatomical research and education. While digital simulations and synthetic models provide value to the learning process, the human body's naturally complex structure makes hands-on learning with cadavers an essential element of future research.

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