Have a Heart - Medical VRML Applications

Dateline: 11/17/97

VRML heart from Focus  Imaging"I left my heart...in the VRML browser"...may not be the next hit song on the top 40 but 3D visualizations of biological entities, and assorted body parts illustrate applications of VRML with for the medical community. Aside from hearts, there are VRML models of brains, skeletons, and a VRML interface to images of the whole body.

One use of VRML in the medical domain is particularly appropriate. The BUMC-COHIS project of Boston University has a mission of community outreach. The VRML models in the COHIS web site illustrate in the dynamic way VRML models can, a few anatomical elements and visitors can get that gee-whiz feeling and begin to understand the value of medical education. At the COHIS site one can find a VRML heart, some kidneys and a skeletal view of one arm with a fairly detailed hand that almost wants to reach out and touch you.

A company called Focus Imaging has another collection of VRML body parts. The brain, skull, heart, and lungs models were created using a variety of medical imaging techniques. CT-scans, myocardial scintigraphy (whatever that is) and magnetic resonance imaging were all used for these parts. VRML is useful as a common, widely available and viewable 3D format.

One of the most significant applications of computer graphics and imaging in the medical domain is a project from the National Library of Medicine called the Visible Human project. The goal of the project was to create a collection of images which are slices through a human body, for education and research. A cadaver was frozen and sliced from top to bottom at precise intervals. After each slice, a high resolution photograph was taken. Given this large collection of images it is now possible to place the stack of images in the computer and look at this "virtual human" from any point of view. By using other types of visual analyses it's possible to create views of various organs or body systems such as the circulatory or nervous systems. The most widely used interface to the visible human data base is via a Java applet called the NPAC Visible Human Viewer. The interface was created by NPAC, the Northeast Parallel Architectures Project at Syracuse University. Another user interface for selecting slices is via a VRML world in which you move a virtual slice through a simple solid representation of the body. There now exists visible human data bases of a man and a women and a wide variety of products with different types of analyses, visualizations, and interfaces to the data.

Finally let's start at the beginning, the beginning of human life that is. A VRML animation from Alligator Pix illustrates a collection of sperm swimming toward their blissful goal. It's kind of strange but fun.