Tuesday, February 5, 2013

VR Key to Medical Discovery

A team of neurosurgeons from the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) recently stepped into CAVE2, a next generation, large-scale, virtual environment to look at a vexing problem presented in the arteries of the brain of a real patient. CAVE2 technology is used to understand blood flow in individual patients.

CAVE2 enables scientists to study phenomena too large, too small, too dangerous, too complex, or too distant to truly understand well without some help in perceptual augmentation. It provides a virtual reality environment where researchers can be immersed in their data to gain new understanding.

Once inside CAVE2, observers can adopt a scale relative to the visual model that makes them feel larger than a six story building or smaller than a molecule. This ability to zoom in and out of different scales empowers them to make detailed observations and gain new insights and knowledge.

For years, neurosurgeons have used laptop and desktop computers to evaluate patient-specific images that were interpreted by computer algorithms to represent the brain and blood flow in 3-D. The neurosurgeons than pieced together arteries, veins, and micro vessels to create 3-D full brain models that physiologically mirrored the brains of individual patients, including a particular patient whose cerebrovascular system they were trying to accurately model.

Because of the limited image spatial-resolution of today’s best quality laptop and desktop computers, there were things that the neurosurgeons couldn’t see. That is until they stepped into an automatic virtual environment, also known as a “CAVE”, a room where images are seamlessly displayed to immerse an observer in a cyber world of 3-D data.

“We had been looking at computer models of a particular patient’s brain for several months,” reports Andreas Linninger, Professor of Bioengineering. “Within five minutes of putting the model into the CAVE2, the chief endovascologist said certain arteries were connected in a way that was inconsistent with anatomy. With that revelation the model was corrected.”

The use of UIC’s virtual reality system could help change the way surgeons are trained and greatly improve patient care. Without CAVE2’s ability to electronically immerse the researchers and surgeons in their data, they may miss significant data points.
“Today, almost all science is e-science”, said Jason Leigh Director of the UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory. “Much of the data scientists investigate is collected, stored, and analyzed digitally, so CAVE2 can give us a unique ability to take that data and represent it in a large-scale virtual environment.”

CAVE2 is being developed by UICs Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The original CAVE supported by NSF was a virtual reality room with stereoscopic 3-D computer graphics rear projected onto walls and down projected onto the floor. There have been changes in the technology and capabilities from the development of the first CAVE to CAVE2.