Enhancing medical students’ spatial understanding of complex gross anatomy with a web-based, three-dimensional model of the pterygopalatine fossa

By Diana Kryski


For the Master of Science in Biomedical Communications, University of Toronto, 2008

Supervisors: Dr. Michael J. Wiley, Jodie Jenkinson


A web-based interactive 3D model of the pterygopalatine fossa (PPF) and related neurovascular structures was developed, to compare the effectiveness of active rotation against still images for enhancing undergraduate medical students’ spatial understanding of the PPF. This understanding is important to physicians’ diagnosis and treatment of disease conditions involving the PPF, such as the perineural spread of tumor. Using a 3D animation software, the boundaries of the PPF were isolated within a digital 3D model of the skull, and neurovascular structures were modeled, including the trigeminal ganglion, maxillary division and branches, pterygopalatine ganglion, and maxillary artery and branches. Users can control the rotational view, opacity of layers, visibility of nerves and arteries, and structure labeling. An identical module with still images from five views (rotation disabled) was developed for comparison. Participants in medicine and anatomy were assigned to the Control (static view) or Experimental (rotatable view) groups, completed a knowledge test on PPF anatomy, were exposed to their assigned module, and completed a similar post-test. The mean gain score (δ between pre- and post-test scores) for each group was compared.  While the Experimental group achieved a significantly higher actual gain score than the Control group did, their mean percent of maximum possible gain (POMP) score was not significantly higher. There was a significant mean increase in score from pre-test to post-test for both the Experimental and Control groups, suggesting that both treatments are highly effective at teaching the spatial anatomy of the PPF.

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