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Virtual Reality in Medicine

Author: University of Basel, Department of Biomedical Engineering
Virtual Reality in Medicine

Basel research scientists open up new opportunities for diagnostics, the scheduling of surgical interventions and training

In order to identify the sites for bone cuts during surgical interventions, surgeons first have to spend, in some cases, hours drawing the body parts that are to be operated on – a procedure known as segmentation. In a new procedure, based on the use of the patient’s computer-tomography data sets, movable images are calculated in real time using volume rendering which is to replace segmentation.

This innovation is part of the MIRACLE project which has received funding amounting to CHF 15.2 million from the Werner Siemens-Stiftung . The goal of the project is the minimally invasive treatment of bones using laser beams. As part of the lighthouse project at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, new opportunities for graphic calculations in real time and virtual reality have been developed for the operating room. The Department of Biomedical Engineering was set up in Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area in 2015.

Until quite recently, the established technique of volume rendering could not be calculated in real time on commercially available hardware. In the form developed in Basel, it was still not suitable for use in medical applications. One particularly challenging aspect is that interference-free image reproduction is only possible from at least 180 generated frames per second – 90 images for the left and 90 images for the right eye. Thanks to sophisticated programming using modern graphic cards, the team under Professor Philippe C. Cattin has succeeded in accelerating the calculations to achieve the necessary frame rate. Combined with the latest generation of virtual-reality glasses, this means that, for the first time, patient image data of sufficient quality for surgeons can be processed virtually around the globe. For instance, the users can virtually interact with the hip bone that is to be operated on, enlarge it, view it more closely or adjust the light direction. One special challenge involved calculating the shadow cast in real time, which is relevant for good depth cue.

Developments in the toy industry and the latest generation of consumer hardware contributed to this success. They gave medicine access to three-dimensional “test chambers”. Museums have also already indicated their major interest. They see opportunities for giving visitors access to the intuitive and destruction-free exploration of the insides of exhibits, like mummies for instance. However, Philippe C. Cattin, the holder of the professorship for Image-Guided Therapy in the Medical Faculty, believes the greatest potential lies in diagnostics, the scheduling of surgical interventions and medical training.