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Medical Visualisation: 3D Health
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 8]

Visualisation is increasing its importance in medicine. Traditionally images and illustrations have been used to teach young physicians and for the training of professionals. 3D Visualisation and other new techniques like stereolithography along with advances in miniaturisation are changing the scene.

The images made by Axial Computerised Tomography and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance are becoming so familiar as Radiography was to our parents. Anybody that has had a child in the last years has been able to see ecographies showing the beating heart of the foetus. These advances have provided considerable improvement in the diagnostic and treatment of illnesses.

One of the most outstanding projects that can be found in Internet is The Visible Human of the NLM (National Library of Medicine USA).

This project relies on the creation of a data base with 3D information of the normal bodies of a man and a woman. This information has been obtained by cutting the corpse of the man in 1mm thick slices and 1/3 mm slices in the case of the woman, along with Axial Tomography and Magnetic Resonance techniques. There is a whole range of Browsers and applications to visualise the database.

The database occupies around 40 Gb and is available in several formats downloadable via FTP after signing a license agreement. There is a Spanish version of the web site. Among the many techniques in use to visualise this type of information you can find VOXELMAN.

This software, initiative of the University of Hamburg, allows the visualisation of the human anatomy and the navigation through it. You can assign colours to the different organs and see the corresponding medical names in an interactive fashion.

There are several interactive atlases based in VOXELMAN. I downloaded a demo of the product (14 Mb) that is really impressive. You can interactively visualise with plenty of details the head and brain seeing clearly their inner structures. It is a great learning tool, that has even the possibility to see them in 3D with stereoscopic glasses.

The company Biomedical Modeling goes one step further by building actual 3D models, 1:1 scale of the organs scanned with Tomography and/or Magnetic resonance. These data are entered into a stereolithographic machine that builds the model slice by slice. The results are so accurate that the surgeon can touch and explore the area to plan the intervention in advance. It's worth taking a look at this link.

Finally Given Imaging has developed a miniaturised device that fits into the space left by a normal pill. This device is swallowable and is able to take images and transmit them to an external receptor during the transit through the digestive tube.

These advances open the doors to new ways of visualisation of the human body and of its state of health, along with new less aggressive forms of surgery, in which visualisation plays an important role.

All this, along with telemedicine, will change the way in which we will relate with the healthcare services in the future.

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