Originally Published MDDI November 2005
Originally Published MDDI November 2005
Imaging Technology Features Organs on Tour
|Creating true 3-D images of the body could help researchers and physicians study bone growth, protein structures, and disease states.|
Piecing together different technologies has helped researchers at the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology (RIT) create virtual images of internal organs. The integrated system could have significant implications for diagnosing and treating diseases.
The realistic reproductions are supposed to make viewers feel like they're actually inside the body, taking a tour of a specific organ. Researchers hope to offer insights into disease states, bone development, and protein bonding, says Richard Doolittle, director of the department of medical sciences at RIT. “To my knowledge, there isn't anything like this available,” he adds. “We've created everything from scratch, based on what we know about the structures of different organs in the human body.”
The work began as a summer research project for RIT students. Doolittle and Paul Craig, professor of chemistry at RIT, wanted to create a 3-D virtual reality world at the microscopic level to help students understand anatomy and histology. The researchers hired students to create detailed images of the pancreas and to put images together using existing software. The researchers told the students what they wanted the images to show, and then sent the students off on their own.
|RIT researchers created virtual imagery that provides realistic views of organs, like these ducts, at the microscopic level.|
To develop a 3-D presentation of the anatomy, the students set up a pipeline to three different software tools. The sequence of the software enabled the students to create true 3-D images. One software program is used to create virtual trips through the human body at a microscopic level. Another sends images through polarized filters to a dual projection system, which shows images in 3-D.
Currently, either a special set of filters or a pair of red and blue glasses is needed to view images. The team hopes to create a fully interactive 3-D system that can be used with any computer monitor. A user would be able to zoom in or out and observe an organ at all angles. Such capability would significantly improve routine microscopy, where only a section of tissue can be examined, says Doolittle.
Students also developed a simplified user interface, making the complicated programs easy to use. Craig hopes to publish this interface soon, believing it could lead to enhanced software. “My thinking for this utilization software is to work with other software developers and provide very simple and rapid interfaces. I'm sure we're going to develop shortcuts and tools that could be add-ons or plug-ins.”
Craig also foresees the development of a macro interface. “Right now we have a manual pipeline where we take the images and massage them one at a time through the pipeline. There are challenges for that, because there's a big difference between showing things in 3-D at 20 ft away and looking through a microscope in millimeters and microns.”
Although the technology's first intended application is for education at the college and high school level, it could also be used by doctors and medical centers to educate patients about diseases. Another big market is in the pharmaceutical arena, where companies could use it to educate sales staff and doctors about a drug's mode of action.
Craig envisions using the technology to gain insight about protein structure by comparing a normal protein structure with a diseased protein. “I wouldn't be surprised if the technology was in the market within 5–10 years, if the high-throughput methods for structure determination were fast enough.”
The research team started with the pancreas, because that organ has a lot of components and can be difficult to understand. In about eight weeks, the students had created a set of images that take the viewer on a guided tour of the organ. The imaging detail goes as far as traveling through cells where enzymes are produced and down the pancreatic duct to the small intestine.
The team plans to look at other organs and diseases as well. “The whole field of 3-D imaging to assist in the diagnosis of diseases using differing medical imaging modalities is going to be the future,” says Doolittle.
“It's too early to tell whether we will be able to contribute to that, but we definitely would be interested.”
RIT and the National Science Foundation provided support and funding.
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