New 3-D technology allows surgeons to fly through virtual human body
24 July 2009
New 3-D technology developed at The Methodist Hospital in Houston
gives physicians the ability to see the inside of the human body like
they have never been able to before, without opening up the patient.
It’s going to change the way surgeons prepare and perform surgery and
the way radiation oncologists plan and deliver radiation treatment.
Another application currently being worked on will allow physicians
to superimpose the patient’s image over the patient during surgery and
perform the surgery.
With a video game controller, physicians visualize or “travel” under
the skin, swooping past bones and surfing the bloodstream to the exact
location requiring surgery or closer examination. Viewing a holographic
image of the body through special glasses, physicians can then create
more precise treatment plans for patients undergoing radiation therapy
“This technology enables us to combine data from CT, MRI and PET
scans and channel them into a single computer to generate one clear,
comprehensive image,” said Dr E Brian Butler, Chairman of Radiation
Oncology at The Methodist Hospital in Houston and creator of 'Plato’s
Cave'. “The 3-D images allow us to view inside the patient, something
we‘ve been unable to do outside of surgery — until now.”
In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, prisoners saw shadows on a
cave wall as reality and blindly accepted it as fact. One day, a
prisoner escaped and actually saw the outside world; thus, his
experience gave him a more expansive view of reality. Butler calls his
venture Plato’s Cave because this new visual approach to medicine opens
up a whole new world for physicians and patients.
Currently, radiation oncologists have limited views of individual
slices of the body. However, with this technology, physicians can see
inside a patient’s body. By using Plato’s Cave, these physicians can
manoeuvre around organs in all directions, allowing them to see more
clearly how radiation is deposited around tumours, adjacent organs,
arteries, veins, and lymphatics.
“Previously, when we were planning a patient’s treatment, the data
might have indicated that a higher than desired dose of radiation would
be delivered to a particular organ such as the spinal cord; yet, we were
unable to visualize the precise location of that dose or divert it,”
Butler said. “Now, I am able to actually see the distribution and have
the option to manoeuvre the excess dose away from the area and deposit
Surgeons can also use this technology to their advantage. It will
give them the ability to visualize, before the patient arrives in the
operating room, potential anatomical obstacles that could complicate
performing a procedure.
“For instance, if a surgeon is performing a liver resection, we can
simulate removing part of the patient’s liver, and with the push of a
button determine how much of the remaining liver will be viable after
the operation,” Butler said. “If it’s 20 percent or greater, the
procedure can be performed; if less, it cannot. This will take surgical
planning to a whole new level.”
Butler says Plato’s Cave will be used to conduct studies to determine
optimal placement of the patient on the operating room table. This
technology will enable surgeons to plan a procedure by performing a
surgical simulation the day before. In the near future, surgeons will be
able to take this technology into the operating room. Surgeons will have
the ability to go directly to the area they mapped out the day before
and perform the surgery with greater precision.
“With this new dual reality technology, Methodist is continuing in
the pioneering footsteps of Dr Michael E. DeBakey, who set the standard
for heart surgery more than 50 years ago,” Butler said.
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