Project adds diversity to human anatomy images

Nov 21, 2023

Kinesiology professor Dave Andrews has teamed up with researchers at the University of Calgary to build a repository of illustrations and videos that better represent the diversity of humans, including people of different ages, sexes, body compositions, skin tones, and more.

Open an anatomy textbook and any illustrations you find will mostly depict fit, young, white males.

The University of Windsor’s Dave Andrews and the University of Calgary’s Heather Jamniczky want to change that.

The professors are leading a project they call the Anatomy Video and Imagery Diversity project, or AVID for short. AVID is building an open-access repository of videos and anatomical illustrations showcasing the diversity of humans, including different ages, sexes, body compositions, skin tones, and hair colours and styles. People with amputations, prosthetics, tattoos, and piercings will also be portrayed. The images can be used in science, kinesiology, nursing, and medical programs, and for other non-commercial purposes.

“Diversity and inclusivity matters,” said Dr. Andrews, a kinesiology professor in the Faculty of Human Kinetics. “Students need to see diversity — to see themselves — in the material they’re learning.”

Dr. Jamniczky, a professor in the department of cell-biology and anatomy, said medical training historically has been the domain of Caucasian men.

“Students deserve and are demanding better from us.”

AVID has received $20,000 in funding to date, half from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, and half from two University of Windsor sources that encourage and support equity, diversity, and inclusivity. With illustrations costing as much of $400 each, Andrews and Jamniczky are hoping to secure additional funding to expand the repository’s offerings.

“We are shaking trees wherever we can,” Jamniczky said. “After we show proof of principle, we envision potential for collaboration across North America and elsewhere in the world.”

UWindsor students who have taken Andrews’ functional anatomy course are working with him to develop short instructional videos featuring a cadre of diverse student actors demonstrating anatomical concepts, terminology, and structure.

Andrews and Jamniczky have hired medical illustrators working in higher education in Ontario and Calgary to create the images. These illustrators are also mostly from equity-deserving groups — an important factor in the project, Jamniczky said.

“One of our aims is also to showcase incredible artists who don’t always get the platform they deserve to share their work.”

Jamniczky and Andrews are both 3M National Teaching Fellows, Canada’s most prestigious recognition of excellence in educational leadership and teaching at the post-secondary level. They first met in person at a 3M Teaching Fellowship retreat in 2021, and the idea of AVID was born.

Jamniczky recruited colleagues Sarah Anderson and Lian Willetts, also professors at the Cumming School of Medicine, to help with the project.

While both Andrews and Jamniczky have already begun using the newest illustrations for a variety of applications, the repository should be open to the public in the new year.