Buying video games to visualize the experience of combat or even virtual space travel is common in today's society. But when it comes to medical field, doctors are still battling with poor graphics of the Atari generation. The computing power that is required to make the organs and tissues virtually alive
is not yet available to many (except to those who have supercomputers) but, according to Joseph Teran, an assistant mathematics professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, this type of technology is going to be the way of the future for many fields in medicine.
Teran's vision is pretty simple: physicians will be able to scan patients prior to procedures and create three-dimensional virtual images of their bodies. These pictures would be stored on a computer and used to practice surgeries before they are actually performed.
Muscle and skin are elastic in real life, so making a technology that will stimulating the same elasticity present in real life might be unimaginable to some. However, using classical mathematical theory, the characteristics of any tissue could be expressed through virtual world.
Developing virtual models
To develop the real world tissues in the "imaginary world" physicians need to first create geometric representations of their tissue and organs through using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT). However, the information these two provide right now is in the form of numbers representing shades of gray, which are insufficient to create accurate, three dimensional, real-colour tissues. This is known as the data processing problem, since the information is not in the right format. Teran estimates that if physicians were to use CT or MRI right now to create virtual tissues, it would take as many as 20 professionals up to nine months to produce even a roughly accurate model of the human body.
The answer to this solution would be to create faster computers with improved software algorithms that can solve mathematical problems with unknown elements and multiple independent variables. According to Teran, the technology will sooner or later catch up to this possibility and when it does, researchers must be ready.
Up to this date, virtual surgery models have been used to create before and after images in reconstructive surgery procedures. Other uses have been to stimulate specific body parts, such as an organ. When it comes to reconstructive surgery, virtual world has been used to map movement disorders like those associated with cerebral palsy
. This allowed surgeons to, via a computer, rearrange a patient's muscular skeletal model to de-emphasize weaker muscles and emphasize stronger ones before surgery. However, the images generated by these programs have been crude images of tissue and limited when it comes to generating real life images of human body.
Teran has worked with plastic surgeon Court Cutting at New York University Medical Center. Cutting uses computer graphic methods to develop statistical descriptions of three-dimensional images of craniofacial malformations
. He then proposes surgical methods for their correction.
Once the hardware and software are available, it will take up to 20 years for this sort of technology to be widespread in the hospital and health care centers. But ultimately, physicians will have a program that will stimulate abnormalities in any organ system based on MRI and CT scans.