The Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve have partnered on a new venture to help improve learning through bringing 3D content into the real world via augmented reality using the Microsoft Hololens.

While virtual reality immerses the user completely in a 360 degree virtual environment, augmented reality differs in that it layers virtual objects and images into the real world via holographs on a screen. We’ve recently seen a number of virtual reality apps for medical education and training using devices like Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift.

Microsoft HoloLens, currently under development, is a bit different in that it has users wearing a glasses-like headset that they can see the real world through but with virtual objects placed into it.

In a recent presentation at Microsoft’s annual Build Conference, Case Western Reserve medical school dean Pamela Davis announced breaking ground for a “state of the future” Health Education Campus. There, students will learn using the latest technology, including virtual & augmented reality like a 3D holographic anatomy program being developed. This program allows a Hololens wearer to see not just virtual cadavers, but to dive much farther and deeper into the human body. For instance, users could visualize specific white matter tracts through the outside of a transparent brain. And according to Dean Davis, early feedback has been great with medical students saying, “a 15 minute sessions with Hololens could have saved them dozens of hours in the cadaveric lab.”

Another feature of this platform is tele-teaching, which lets onscreen instructors lecture on the topic remotely through the viewer. The video of this presentation, shown below, offers an impressive demonstration of the augmented reality possibilities of Hololens for medical education. This presentation follows an equally impressive demo done last year, in which an entire human body, albeit in holographic form, was displayed, then broken down by into layers including bones, muscles, and circulatory system.

In coming years, we’ll likely see a number of early-adopter institutions test out both virtual and augmented reality in their medical education curriculums. Through those experiences, and thoughtful evaluation conducted in parallel, we’ll hopefully learn how these tools can improve learning not just in anatomy, but pathophysiology, microbiology, and even procedural training. Time will tell as both of these technologies are polished and released to general consumers and medical institutions alike.


  1. CWRU takes the stage at Microsoft’s Build conference to show how HoloLens can transform learning
  2. CWRU, Cleveland Clinic and Microsoft Transform Learning