Veterinary Histology: An Atlas of Microscopic Anatomy

Professor Ted Golos, right, helped to implement the digital platform used by students in the Veterinary Histology course. Likening it to a Google Maps of cellular microanatomy, the platform hosts high-resolution scans of the microscope slides that are part of the curriculum.

At A Glance
Class Name: Veterinary Histology
Credit hours: 5
Structure: Three 50-minute lectures and two three-hour labs each week
Taught by: Lecturers Liz Jacka and Stephanie Evenson and Professors Lisa Arendt, Ruth Sullivan, and Ted Golos
On the syllabus: Structural and functional aspects of cells and tissue.

Understanding the intricacies of cellular-level architecture is one of the first items on the agenda for UW School of Veterinary Medicine students.

Amongst a suite of required courses to be taken during the first semester of the first year of curriculum is Veterinary Histology. Across 16 weeks, students examine the microscopic anatomy of the entire mammalian body through the close inspection of 250 microscope slides containing various tissue samples.

“It’s important because everything that happens within the body under normal circumstances or in disease happens at the level of the cell, and it’s changes in the cells that lead to disease in an organ,” explains course coordinator and instructor Liz Jacka DVM’10.

The course content is rigorous, but a digital platform implemented by Ted Golos, professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Biosciences, and Albee Messing, professor emeritus, has made it more accessible. Over the past several years, digital images of all of the microscope slides that are part of the curriculum have been scanned at very high resolution and uploaded to an online platform.

“It’s become a critical, integral tool,” says Jacka. “What we have is essentially the same thing you’d look at on a microscope, except on a digital platform. You can zoom in the same way you’d be able to on a microscope and see all the cells.”

The online system brings several advantages. First, it allows students to view the images whenever and wherever with an Internet connection, whereas
in the past students were limited to viewing the slides on microscopes in
the Veterinary Medicine Building.

“Now students can study at home. It’s a huge advantage that way,” says Jacka. “And students love how they can always have a reminder of what something looks like.”

In addition, labels and annotations from instructors in the digital platform mark important features and examples at specific slide locations. “It’s helped the students enormously,” Jacka notes. “You can’t label things on a glass slide, so before students would struggle to figure out what they were trying to look at. Now they can go to the digital scan, see ‘Oh, this is what we need to find,’ and then find that on their slide.”

The course instructors see the digital platform as a complement to viewing slides on a microscope, not as a replacement. In the class’s twice-weekly labs, students work in pairs to study digital scans online and physical slides under the microscope, referring back and forth between the two modes and gaining the benefits of both.

“It’s a little bit new world and old world,” says Jacka. “The students are all very digitally oriented, so they really like having that utility. At the same time, they will definitely use microscopes in the clinic, so we give them familiarity with the concepts they need as a solid foundation for doing so.”

Likening the new online system to a Google Maps of cellular microanatomy, Golos says it has improved the flow and efficiency of class, allowing students to clarify questions quickly and ask more complex queries because they can dive into greater detail. An extensive bank of study questions in the platform also helps to generate further discussion.

Student Preston Cernek DVMx’21 echoes this. “We spend a lot less time searching for things and a lot more time studying the actual characteristics.”

A band neutrophil, platelet, segmented neutrophil and monocyte (clockwise from far left to right) can be seen in this smear of blood on a scanned microscope slide. In the first semester of their curriculum, SVM students study cellular-level anatomy through the five-credit Veterinary Histology course.

In addition, instructors are no longer limited to having the entire class take turns viewing a single slide.

“When we first started teaching this course, we had ‘demonstration microscopes’ set up in the lab and students would go from one station to another when they were available,” says Golos. “Now if we have a unique specimen, we can scan it so all can see.”

UW Veterinary Care clinicians frequently visit the class to present real-life patient scenarios and the detailed anatomy behind them, helping students see the direct correlation between histology and their future careers and clinical cases. For example, during a recent lab session, Ellison Bentley, clinical professor of comparative ophthalmology, compared images of eye abnormalities commonly seen among patients to the normal cellular-level details of the eye that students were studying that day. “An understanding of anatomy facilitates the interpretation of exam findings,” Bentley told the students.

“The goal of the clinical correlations is to show students why they need a solid foundation in this subject to understand when things go wrong with their patients – to tie in why clinicians need to know histology in order to address a case,” says Jacka.

Meghan Lepisto


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