John Qualter’s inner space

John Qualter has spent more than a decade charting the human body inside and out. He can now tell potential clients: “If you want a more detailed model of the eye, we can make that for you.” Mr. Qualter’s BioDigital Human, a 3-D atlas of human anatomy, has attracted 1.4 million users who can explore the body as one peruses the planet via Google Earth.

Mr. Qualter, 37, spent 10 years creating high-resolution medical images for pharmaceutical clients and medical schools. He and his partner, Frank Sculli, put their images into a public repository used by some 2,500 medical schools to teach anatomy to their students. (NYU, where Mr. Qualter is a research assistant professor, is among them.)

Mr. Qualter majored in studio art while on the pre-med track at the University of Virginia, then spent two years designing software before going back for a master’s in digital imaging and design. “I wanted to learn production tools that are used in Hollywood,” he said.

The interactive map lets students isolate organs or repeat complex procedures before trying them on a cadaver—or patient. “Pilots have to reach a certain level of competency before they’re allowed to put passengers’ lives at risk,” he said. “Surgeons should have the same requirements, but the way they learn hasn’t changed in 100 years.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center uses BioDigital to educate thyroid-cancer patients. Bellevue Hospital started giving residents iPads with the BioDigital app preloaded with visualizations of chronic conditions common to their patients.

Physical therapists, yoga instructors, even medical billing companies could benefit from the maps, Mr. Qualter said. “Anatomy is pervasive,” he said. “It’s not just in medical school, it’s everywhere.”

Published in Crain’s New York Business May 25, 2014.