Preserving and Sharing Examples of Anatomical Variation and Developmental Anomalies Via Photorealistic Virtual Reality

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Computer graphics technology has made it possible to create photographic-quality virtual specimens from real anatomical material. One technique for doing this, QuickTime™ Virtual Reality (QTVR), results in virtual specimens that are easily shared on the Internet and displayed as standalone entities or incorporated into complex programs or Web sites. A compelling use of this technology is the sharing of rare specimens such as unusual variations, developmental anomalies or gross pathology. These types of specimens have traditionally been confined to anatomical museums, but could serve a much more useful existence as freely shared virtual specimens. An example presented here is a relatively rare developmental defect in the embryonic aortic arches that results in a right-sided aortic arch coursing posterior to the trachea and esophagus. In a time of ever increasing restraints on the practical side of anatomy education, an Internet-based library of human variation and other rare specimens would be a useful supplement to students' limited exposure to the human body. Since the discovery and preparation of specimens would be the rate-limiting step in producing such a collection, we propose the establishment of a center for virtual specimen creation and preservation through a cooperative effort by gross anatomists and pathologists in contributing the source material. This collection, a work in progress, is available at Anat Rec (Part B: New Anat) 276B:15–18, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.