German medical students will soon be able to take a virtual 3-D trip inside the human body with the aid of a pioneering computer system.
The program, virtusMED, will be introduced in medical training at Goettingen University Hospital this summer. Michael Teistler, a medical computer scientist who developed the system at the Technical University of Brunswick, said. "A 3-D portrayal of the internal body will help students understand the spatial relationship between organs. It will also help them learn to read ultrasound pictures more effectively."
VirtusMED would also be useful in diagnosis and preparation for operations, he added. The system uses data from the Visible Human data bank at the National Library of Medicine, in the United States. This supplies thousands of views of the human body, as well as patient data, such as computer topography and ultrasound pictures.
The program generates 3-D portrayals on screen. A virtual examination probe explores a virtual patient. The probe generates tomographic slices, revealing the relationship of vessels, nerves, organs and bones.
Unlike other systems, virtusMED can observe the interior of a body from any angle. Organs and joints can be portrayed in contrasting colours on screen and can be added or taken away from a picture. It also simulates X-ray pictures from previously gathered data.
Students at Goettingen will be the first to use the system. Mr Teistler believes it could win an important place in medical education and in clinical diagnosis within a few years. A parallel study at Goettingen will test its efficiency.
Other university hospitals have shown an interest in the system. Homburg University Hospital wants to use it in surgical planning, and Hamburg cardiology specialists want to use it to explore MRI data.
US hospitals also expressed an interest in the system when it was exhibited at the Radiological Society of North America congress in Chicago last year, where it was judged the best of 105 exhibits. The software, which can be used on a standard computer, is relatively inexpensive. It will be launched on the market in April.