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Students Become Heart Doctors in New "Virtual Laboratory"


Virtual Cardiology Lab at HHMI's BioInteractive site challenges students to diagnose heart problems.

Students can diagnose virtual patients with an ultrasound machine, a stethoscope and other tools at a new "Virtual Cardiology Lab" created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) just in time for high school biology teachers to use in their classrooms during Heart Month in February.

The online laboratory puts high school students and others in the role of a medical student. They evaluate patients with differing complaints, using tools such as an echocardiogram to visualize the heart's four chambers.

The student is challenged to diagnose the patient's problem in a series of logical steps. Does the echocardiogram show, for example, that the heart muscles are thickening? Does the sound coming from the stethoscope suggest a heart murmur? To help make decisions, the student can compare the patient's heart with a normal heart or can consult provided references, including background articles on cardiac anatomy and physiology, descriptions of common heart diseases and a glossary of scientific terms.

The lab is the latest addition to BioInteractive, a Web site that HHMI created for students to try out the tools of modern biology. Other virtual explorations enable students to probe the nervous system, carry out diagnostic tests for immune system disorders, watch Salmonella invading a cell and study other topics.

BioInteractive is part of HHMI's Web site, http://www.hhmi.org. The HHMI site offers extensive information about biomedical research along with online activities and resources for science students and teachers. HHMI is a large philanthropic organization whose scientific teams carry out biomedical research at more than 70 locations across the United States.

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Jim Keeley
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