On the Virtual Anatomy of the Living – From Papier-Mâché to 3D Model

Erika Claessens |  2017-08-14

Louis Auzoux made one of the first highly detailed anatomical models at the beginning of the nineteenth century: a papier-mâché corpse for educational purposes. Today, innovative cinematic rendering and 3D-printing techniques, developed within Siemens’ Research platform syngo.via Frontier, take just a few minutes to show the inner composition of a human being. Undoubtedly, these technologies are a quantum leap for the future of healthcare.


Photographer: Ezequiel Scangetti


It must have been quite unusual to see a group of people walking through the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels with a twohundred-year-old anatomical model on a stretcher, but for Lara de Merode, scientific coordinator, and Anne-Sophie Hanse, art restorer and collections coordinator at the Museum of Medicine in Brussels, Belgium, it was amazing reality. “The most remarkable item in our museum, the first anatomical corpse developed by Auzoux, reached the height of its fame and glory when it was chosen by the Brussels Museum Council to feature as a major piece in its annual campaign. Beginning in April 2015, the Auzoux model had been carefully restored by art restoration experts Hanse and her colleague Marion Gouriveau.

To celebrate these two events, the Museum of Medicine collaborated with Siemens to use its innovative 3D-imaging technology to display the plaster corpse in the museum in a brand new setting,” says de Merode. The freshly restored masterpiece was brought to a scanner at the nearby Erasmus hospital and a series of radiographic images were taken. De Merode and her colleagues were more than happy with the results. “After applying the cinematic rendering technique, a 3D view of the nineteenth century corpse was developed, showing its metallic structure and revealing all the stages of its manufacture,” she states proudly.

Scientific aspirations in papier-mâché

Louis Auzoux was born in 1797 in Upper Normandy, France, to a family of agricultural landowners. His father taught him how to work with wood and metal, but at age 18, Auzoux decided to study medicine. His particular interest in anatomy made him reflect on the emergence of human dissection as a primary tool for teaching and learning about the inner human. He was firmly convinced that cadaver dissections were indispensable to ensure safe and efficient clinical practice.

And so he decided to rely on his woodworking skills and produce anatomical models in papier-mâché to serve the training needs. “The medical student came up with a papiermâché anatomy model that was made of a mixture of cork, ropes of hemp and metal fibers, clay, paper, and wheat glue.” Anne-Sophie Hanse explains: “What made it even more interesting is that his models could be taken apart piece by piece and, compared to the previously used wax models, were less expensive.” Auzoux founded a factory for producing anatomical models and, after a few years, the models became a commercial success and were widely used for educational purposes.

Holy Grail of photorealistic rendering

The Cinematic Volume Rendering Technique1 (cVRT) used for displaying the Auzoux model was one of the first research prototypes available in syngo.via Frontier2. cVRT is based on the latest developments in the gaming and animation industries. It is a visual technology that takes 3D depictions of the human body to the next level of image quality. cVRT describes a physical rendering algorithm that simulates the complex interaction between photons and the scanned anatomical image to obtain photorealistic images.

Both CT or MRI images can be rendered using cVRT. The algorithm takes the data from the scan procedure and calculates not only how the light reflects on the surface of the tissue or bones, but also how the light penetrates the material and is scattered in it. Considered by many as the “Holy Grail of photorealistic rendering”, the algorithm moves from purely geometric optics to a quantum optic simulation.

Seeing is believing

Whereas traditional volume rendering techniques (VRT) simply apply a preset of colors, opacities, and brightness, cVRT enables the depiction of certain visual effects, like shading. Shading means, for instance, that a spherical panorama is captured using a reflective sphere. This records the current light environment that is then applied to all the synthetic elements that are added. So cVRT operates as a virtual camera.

Moreover, the program makes it possible to hide or show soft tissue, muscles, blood vessels, and bone for a clear view of the desired anatomies and a completely novel insight into the human body. Seeing is believing and in this case it means that anatomical evidence can be viewed easily and often, leading to a better understanding of the human body.

An open platform for translational research

To support the model-creation process, Siemens harnessed the potential of syngo.via Frontier. This platform provides easy access to postprocessing publication purposes and seamlessly integrates them with the clinical routine syngo.via environment. The dedicated syngo.via Frontier Prototype Store is continuously enriched with new contributions from Siemens Healthineers R&D, other Frontier users, and external partners. For instance, the 3D-printing prototype available for research in syngo.via Frontier, automatically recognizes the organ segmentations from various syngo.via applications and prepares them for 3D printing.

The potential of this area is huge. In clinical practice, 3D technology is receiving more and more attention. Its main benefit will be improving both the planning of surgeries, as well as communication between physicians, and dialog with patients. Like Auzoux’s anatomical models, cinematic rendering and 3D printing also open up new dimensions in education: understanding and perceiving human anatomy. They allow visualization of the anatomy of a living patient, showing all structures present. If Auzoux were still alive, he would most likely be an early adopter and proud to have been part of the future in healthcare.


About the author

For more than 25 years, journalist and editor Erika Claessens has contributed to
numerous print and online publications in both Belgium and the Netherlands. Her principal topics are entrepreneurial innovation and sustainability. She works in Antwerp, Belgium.


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1Cinematic VRT is not intended for diagnostic reading.

2syngo.via Frontier is a research platform and not intended for clinical use.

The statements by Siemens’ customers described herein are based on results that were achieved in the customer's unique setting. Since there is no "typical" hospital and many variables exist (e.g., hospital size, case mix, level of IT adoption) there can be no guarantee that other customers will achieve the same results.