Dr. W. Paul Brown, a pioneer in virtual reality, serves as the keynote speaker for the seventh annual Dr. Philip Pumerantz Distinguished Lectureship Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at Western University of Health Sciences. (Mirza Hasanefendic, WesternU)

Dr. W. Paul Brown, a pioneer in virtual reality, served as the keynote speaker for the seventh annual Dr. Philip Pumerantz Distinguished Lectureship Tuesday, October 27, 2015. (Mirza Hasanefendic, WesternU)

Three-dimensional data, manipulation, modeling and printing are becoming the standard in medical education, according to a Stanford University digital learning pioneer, and today’s health sciences students must be comfortable with 3-D technology if they expect to be of highest service to their patients and professions.

W. Paul Brown, DDS, FICD, FACD, a consulting associate professor in the Division of Clinical Anatomy at Stanford University Medical School, was the keynote speaker for the seventh annual Dr. Philip Pumerantz Distinguished Lectureship on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at Western University of Health Sciences. Brown, a dentist by training and a digital imaging researcher by choice, developed systems that led to the creation of the Anatomage Virtual Dissection Table. The table is the centerpiece technological tool at WesternU’s J and K Virtual Reality Learning Center, which opened in August.

Brown’s presentation, “The Impact of Virtual Reality on Health Science Education,” loosely traced the history of anatomical modeling and anatomy education, with his comments accompanying a series of two- and three-dimensional photos, as well as a smattering of short videos. Every one of the 356 seats in Lecture Hall I of WesternU’s Health Education Center was filled for the talk, which was simulcast online and linked to WesternU’s COMP-Northwest campus in Lebanon, Oregon.

Anatomy has historically been a problem to teach, Brown said, with poor – and rare – drawings of human organisms serving as references for early students of anatomy. Later tools included Italian anatomical wax replicas, beautiful but also rare, and eventually cadavers, which today remain accessible to only a fraction of health sciences students, and are both difficult and expensive to come by.

The advent of computer-assisted education and advances in 3-D technology have created new opportunities for data collection and dissemination, medical instruction and training in anatomy, Brown said. “We’re teaching anatomy. It’s a three-dimensional subject. We need three-dimensional data to teach a three-dimensional subject.

“Students with low spatial ability learn best with 3-D models. It helps them understand complex anatomy. We couldn’t do a really good job of that before computers.”

Brown, who practiced endodontics in Palo Alto, California for many years, was a clinical associate professor at the University of Pacific School of Dentistry and a clinical assistant professor at the UC San Francisco School of Dentistry. Thanks to his practice and his teaching, he realized how valuable 3-D models and data could be for dentists, who for decades had relied on two-dimensional X-rays to assess patients’ dental health.

He then set about building a digital dental anatomy library, which he made available to others to teach. That effort ultimately led to nearly a dozen NIH grants for medical imaging and virtual reality research, as well as a partnership with Anatomage Inc., of San Jose, to develop 3-D tools for teaching anatomy as a whole. The Anatomage Virtual Dissection Table is one of the cutting-edge results.

“I thought, if I can build a digital library of teeth to teach endodontics, I can make (the technology) available to others to teach,” Brown said. “Now, we can travel through the human body in real time. We can make treatment decisions based on information that before was inaccessible.”

Digital imaging, virtual reality, and 3-D and 4-D will improve care because health professionals will have more, and better, information to work with, he said. “I’ve done 350,000 root canals, and I’d like to do them all over again” using digital imaging beforehand, Brown said. “You can get a lot more information if you can see it in three dimensions.
“We live in a unique historical time. There’s so much innovation going on,” he concluded. “The use of 3-D data ¿ is changing really quickly. You’re going to be expected to manipulate 3-D data sets.”

Brown was presented with a gift and a lecture certificate from WesternU. Interim President Gary Gugelchuk, PhD, then unveiled the lectureship plaque, which includes the names of all seven of the keynote speakers to date.

Drs. Daljit and Elaine Sarkaria of Orange established the lectureship in 2009 in honor of WesternU’s founder and president emeritus, Dr. Philip Pumerantz, as part of a $5.1 million pledge to WesternU. The Sarkarias dedicated $100,000 of their pledge to create the lectureship to encourage and foster exemplary medical research, education and high-quality patient care.