Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Virtual Reality Changing the Way Doctors View, Treat Patients

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Virtual Reality Changing the Way Doctors View, Treat Patients

Article excerpt

CHICAGO -- A medical resident wearing black-rimmed goggles stands before a projection screen and uses a computer to navigate through an oversized 3-D image of the human pelvis -- a notoriously difficult part of the body to learn.

Elsewhere, doctors combine scanned images and computer technology to view a patient's organs instead of taking simple X-rays or doing exploratory surgery.

Still others create a computer model of a car crash victim's damaged skull, allowing a medical sculptor to design and build a plate that fits perfectly before surgery even begins.

These are a few ways that virtual reality -- computer technology that allows the viewing of complex three-dimensional images of the body -- is dramatically changing the way doctors work.

"If a picture's worth a thousand words, then a model like this is worth a thousand pictures," Dr. Theodore Mason, chief resident in the Eye and Ear Infirmary at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said as he used a computer cursor to maneuver through a cave-like image of the inner ear at the university's Virtual Reality in Medicine Laboratory.

By using computer-generated models, surgeons hope in the not-too- distant future to perform surgery on a patient's virtual organs before making the first cut on vital organs. And as the ability to transmit huge chunks of data improves, they envision the day when doctors will be able to examine and treat patients thousands of miles away.

Virtual reality, which first caught the public's notice through sophisticated computer games, is already becoming an integral part of medical education. Researchers at UIC are using a $1.04 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to build computer- generated models of anatomy that will be shared with other medical institutions.

Besides the pelvic floor and inner ear, UIC researchers will soon be able to share other virtual models, including one that would allow doctors to perform delicate surgery on the retina.

"It shows anatomic structures in a way that are otherwise impossible to see. You can't dissect a cadaver this way. You can't dissect a human that you're operating on this way," said Dr. Jonathan Silverstein, a surgery professor and co-director UIC's Virtual Reality lab -- part of a university system known for its high-tech innovations, including Mosaic, the first Internet browser.

Other institutions are also beginning to use virtual reality to teach anatomy. At the University of California, San Diego, for example, researchers have developed a model of the sphenoid bone, a complex bone in the base of the cranium.

"For probably 20 years, there's been an interest in using computers in teaching anatomy. But to do graphics in real-time three- dimensional ways takes a lot of computing power and takes some very sophisticated data," said Dr. Mark Whitehead, an anatomy professor at the UCSD medical school's department of surgery. …

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