Educators and researchers can now have remote access to a “virtual microscope” that can be used to view slides of human tissues. Massage therapy schools can use this technology to teach anatomy and physiology in an immersive and interactive environment.
Virtual microscopy is revolutionizing education and research science compliments of a new website, the Virtual Microscopy Database, or VMD. The American Association of Anatomists provided a grant that enables academic educators and researchers to access the database for viewing, downloading, and using the images contained therein.
Tens of thousands of students, researchers, educators, and others, from almost 200 countries have visited the site already. Virtual microscopy now provides insight into the body on a microscopic level to educators and students; high resolution images are available to view an entire organ or to zoom into the cellular level.
Virtual microscopy as an educational tool was first used at the University of Michigan Medical School. Initially, it was used for teaching histology at U-M, but with the advent of the website, those images are now available to students, instructors, and researchers all over the world. Whether it’s for teaching anatomy or researching a disease, the VMD will be invaluable.
The histology educational team at U-M digitized their hundreds of slides for the U-M’s website and made them available on a free mobile app. This was the beginning of the VMD, which will debut at the meeting on experimental biology at the end of this month. The VMD contains high quality microscopic images of tissues and cells that were previously available only to those who had access to a lab, a microscope, and a library of glass slides. According to Dr. Michael Hortsch,
“Virtual microscopy is like Google Earth, just at the microscopic scale. It’s not just about looking at pictures. It’s also a way to connect structure with function. Because we are visual animals, it’s easier for us to understand what is happening inside our bodies if we can see it with our own eyes.“
Dr. Hortsch hopes that his innovative website will aid educators and researchers worldwide, so their efforts needn’t be hampered by financial constraints. Dr. Hortsch has been sharing the database at U-M for several years and continues to add slides and image collections to it. He receives numerous requests from colleagues who want to avail themselves of virtual microscopy, and this was the inspiration for this database.
Many educational institutes and research facilities have digitized their slides recently and Dr. Hortsch hopes to garner them all into this database. The VMD will enable students to view images previously unavailable to them, thereby broadening the scope of their education. Researchers may also find it helpful when they’re searching for cures for the plethora of chronic and acute diseases that plague the world. Dr. Hortsch hopes that by making this database available worldwide, money that institutions would have otherwise allocated for equipment can be used for furthering both education and research.