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3-D software for 'virtual surgery'

Computer scientists at Brigham Young University (BYU) have developed a new software tool to perform 'virtual surgery.' This tool, dubbed 'Live Surface,' will allow surgeons to visualize in 3-D any part of a patient's anatomy with just a few clicks of a mouse. Live Surface might even been used for special-effects in movies or games.
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

Computer scientists at Brigham Young University (BYU) have developed a new software tool to perform 'virtual surgery.' This tool, dubbed 'Live Surface,' will allow surgeons to visualize in 3-D any part of a patient's anatomy with just a few clicks of a mouse. Similar software already exist, but as reports the Deseret Morning News, Live Surface is interactive and fast. This software can be used for better diagnosis by physicians, but it might even suppress the need for some exploratory surgeries. The researchers add that Live Surface might even be used for special-effects in movies or games by extracting an actor's performance from a video clip.

Here is the introduction of the Deseret Morning News article.

The software, Live Surface, could be valuable for preoperative exams, diagnosis and evaluation -- and for showing patients and their loved ones medical information in a form they can understand, said William S. Barrett, a BYU professor who, with graduate student Chris Armstrong, developed the software.
It might even have the potential to eliminate some exploratory surgeries, said Barrett, although "the proof is in the pudding, and we don't know that quite yet."

The article also explains why this software is innovative.

The 3-D rendering of anatomy is not what's new about the software. Nice renderings of anatomy have been around for years. But the tools in the software allow doctors and others to arrive very quickly at anatomical images that in the past "took a fair amount of heroic effort," Barrett said. The new program provides "segmented tools that have been lacking."

Below is an example of an image generated by Live Surface which shows how "the tool extracts skin covering hands and attached bones" (Credit for photo: Chris Armstrong, BYU).

Live Surface generated image of hands

A BYU news release, "Trading cuts for clicks," describes the goals of Barrett when he developed this software.

"The main goal in developing Live Surface was to give the physician a powerful, practical tool that can be used interactively," said Barrett, explaining that existing software and techniques that are used to give doctors a look at a patient's anatomy are either too simplistic or take too long to be of immediate use. "A program like this has to be incredibly fast and very interactive, or else it's very frustrating for the user, who currently has to go get a sandwich and come back before he has what he wants."

But Live Surface has other advantages, such as the easy isolation of "tricky anatomy such as soft tissue -- blood vessels, hearts and muscles -- that a lot of other techniques can't readily extract."

Here is another image generated by Live Surface which shows how "the tool extracts the bones of a knee" (Credit for photo: Chris Armstrong, BYU). You'll find other images created with this software in this gallery.

Live Surface generated image of a knee

And how does this software work?

The BYU software works by extracting information from data collected in 3-D volumes -- CT scans, MRIs or 3-D ultrasounds. With a click and drag of the mouse, a user identifies the object he wishes to extract. Next, he identifies those portions of the data that surround the object. Immediately, the desired object is extracted from the data.
"This is the object I want, and this is not the object I want. And in less than half a second, it pulls the object you want out of the data," said Armstrong.

This software has been presented for the first time yesterday at the International Workshop on Volume Graphics 2006, held on July 30-31, in Boston, Massachusetts.

But of course, it was based on previous works, such as the Intelligent Scissors tool previously developed in Barrett's lab. For more information about this project, here is a link to a highly technical paper, "Interactive Segmentation with Intelligent Scissors" (PDF format, 48 pages).

Sources: Lois M. Collins, Deseret Morning News, Utah, July 31, 2006; Brigham Young University news release, July 25, 2006; and various web sites

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