Virtual reality in medicine—new opportunities for diagnostics and surgical planning

December 7, 2016, University of Basel
With SpectoVive, doctors can interact in a three-dimensional space with a part of the body that requires surgery. Credit: University of Basel

Before an operation, surgeons have to obtain the most precise image possible of the anatomical structures of the part of the body undergoing surgery. University of Basel researchers have now developed a technology that uses computed tomography data to generate a three-dimensional image in real time for use in a virtual environment.

The planning of a surgical procedure is an essential part of successful treatment. To determine how best to carry out procedures and where to make an incision, surgeons need to obtain as realistic an image as possible of anatomical structures such as bones, blood vessels, and tissues.

Researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel's Department of Biomedical Engineering have now succeeded in taking two-dimensional cross-sections from computer tomography and converting them for use in a virtual environment without a time lag. Using sophisticated programming and the latest graphics cards, the team led by Professor Philippe C. Cattin succeeded in speeding up the volume rendering to reach the necessary frame rate. In addition, the SpectoVive system can perform fluid shadow rendering, which is important for creating a realistic impression of depth.

For example, doctors can use the latest generation of glasses to interact in a three-dimensional space with a hip bone that requires surgery, zooming in on the bone, viewing it from any desired angle, adjusting the lighting angle, and switching between the 3-D view and regular CT images. Professor Cattin explains the overall benefits: "Virtual reality offers the doctor a very intuitive way to obtain a visual overview and understand what is possible."

"This brand-new technology smoothly blurs the boundary between the physical world and computer simulation. As a doctor, I am no longer restricted to looking at my patient's images from a bird's eye view. Instead, I become part of the image and can move around in digital worlds to prepare myself, as a surgeon, for an operation in detail never seen before," says ophthalmologist Dr. Peter Maloca.

"I have found that these new environments continue to guide me and have helped rewire my senses, ultimately making me a better doctor. Those who stand to gain the most here are doctors, their patients, and students – all of whom can share in this new information," adds Maloca, who works at University Hospital Basel's OCTlab and at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Improved volume rendering

The ability to convert CT images into a 3-D on-screen representation is nothing new. Until now, however, commonly available hardware could not generate these three-dimensional volumes in for use in virtual spaces. One particularly challenging aspect was that smooth playback in a requires at least 180 images a second – 90 images each for the left and right eyes; otherwise, the viewer may experience nausea or dizziness.

Widespread interest in innovation

This achievement was aided by developments in the computer games industry and new generations of powerful standard hardware, providing medical practitioners with access to three-dimensional test environments. At present, the Basel-based researchers are conducting regular demonstrations of SpectoVive to physicians in order to highlight the system's potential and, at the same time, to gain a better understanding of doctors' requirements.

Some museums have also expressed interest in the technology, seeing SpectoVive as an opportunity to allow visitors to discover the world inside exhibits, such as mummies, in an intuitive and nondestructive manner. However, Philippe Cattin, Professor for Image-Guided Therapy at the Faculty of Medicine, sees the greatest potential in the areas of diagnostics, surgical planning, and medical training.

SpectoVive – part of the MIRACLE project

This innovation is part of the MIRACLE project underway at the Department of Biomedical Engineering. The project is receiving CHF 15.2 million in funding from the Werner Siemens-Foundation. Its aim is to allow the minimally invasive treatment of bones using laser beams. One day, it is expected that SpectoVive technology will be used in the planning of surgical procedures and for the navigation of the robot-guided laser system.

Explore further: Microscope imaging system integrates virtual reality technology

Related Stories

Microscope imaging system integrates virtual reality technology

August 3, 2016
Joshua Bederson, MD, Professor and System Chair for the Department of Neurosurgery at Mount Sinai Health System, is the first neurosurgeon to use CaptiView - a microscope image injection system from Leica Microsystems that ...

Engineer developing haptic feedback system for med students 

September 6, 2016
This could be the best and most realistic version of "Operation" ever, but a system under development at Rice University to help train doctors is no game.

3D images generated from PET/CT scans help surgeons envision tumors

October 17, 2013
Researchers at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia have developed a hologram-like display of a patient's organs that surgeons can use to plan surgery. This approach uses molecular PET/CT images of a patient to rapidly ...

Recommended for you

Bionic suit helps paralyzed patients stand and walk again

April 25, 2018
Patients undergoing physical rehabilitation at Rush for paralyzing injuries are being aided by a robotic suit designed to help raise people to full height and walk.

Johns Hopkins performs first total penis and scrotum transplant in the world

April 23, 2018
Many soldiers returning from combat bear visible scars, or even lost limbs, caused by blasts from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. However, some servicemen also return with debilitating hidden injuries—the loss of ...

'Life support' for transplant livers better than freezing: study

April 18, 2018
Keeping transplant livers on "life support" at body temperature preserves them better than the prevailing method of near-freezing, and could reduce the number of donor organs thrown away, a study said Wednesday.

Study finds no evidence that anesthesia in young children lowers intelligence

April 18, 2018
A Mayo Clinic study finds no evidence that children given anesthesia before their third birthdays have lower IQs than those who did not have it. A more complex picture emerges among people who had anesthesia several times ...

Post-surgical opioids can, paradoxically, lead to chronic pain

April 16, 2018
Giving opioids to animals to quell pain after surgery prolongs pain for more than three weeks and primes specialized immune cells in the spinal cord to be more reactive to pain, according to a new study by the University ...

Evidence mounts that daily opioid users may fare worse after spine surgery, study finds

April 16, 2018
In a multicenter database study of adults who had undergone surgery for spinal deformities, researchers say that those who had used narcotics daily on average had worse outcomes, such as longer intensive care unit stays and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.