It looks like something out of a science fiction film: a human heart floating in mid-air in such a way that a doctor can walk around it and see it in action from all sides. This technology has the potential to completely revolutionize the way surgeons get to see inside their patients. Already tested in pilot programs, the technology should start appearing in medical care facilities in 2016.
Fans of the television show Grey’s Anatomy got to see a holographic clip of the technology in an episode that aired this past spring. In We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together , Burke arranges for Cristina to go to Zurich where she gets to see a hologram of the heart they are to operate on. In reality, the work on the technology behind the holography was performed in Israel by RealView Imaging.
In partnership with Philips, RealView Imaging conducted a pilot study that applied the imaging technology to minimally-invasive structural heart procedures at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petach Tikva, Israel. The system projects an image that is visible without any specialized viewing apparatus and that can be manipulated at a touch. As this press release explained, “RealView's innovative visualization technology was used to display interactive, real-time 3D holographic images acquired by Philips' interventional X-ray and cardiac ultrasound systems.”
3D imaging has already proven its benefits with regard to deepening surgeons' understanding of their patients' anatomies in the form of 3D printed models of hearts. The models, which are based on MRI scans, make it possible for the doctors to make an individualized and detailed plan resulting in more precise and effective surgical procedures. In fact, such models are credited with a number of life-saving operations.
Helpful as they are, though, 3D printed models offer only a monochromatic, static view, unlike holographic images that can display the organ's movements in real, living color and in real-time.
In fact, 3D printing is what the people at RealView Imaging refer to in describing what they offers. As they say: “Holography can be viewed as 3D printing in space, only done with light rather than with some kind of matter.” And, as illustrated in this video, 3D views of this type are the way the human brain takes in information most quickly and accurately.
The medical director of RealView imaging is Dr. Elchanan Bruckheimer, pediatric cardiologist and Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Schneider Children's Medical Center. At the conclusion of the successful pilot program in October 2013, he noted, “The ability to reach into the image and apply markings on the soft tissue anatomy in the X-ray and 3D ultrasound images would be extremely useful for guidance of these complex procedures.”
During the trial, Dr. Bruckheimer employed the imaging technology when repairing a sixteen year-old's heart. As he observed in this article, “For the first time in my career, I had the patient's virtual heart literally beating in the palm of my hand.”
RealView Imaging's term for the ability to not only see the hologram up close, but to actually interact with it, is image intimacy.
As these illustrations indicate, holographic imagery can be applied to capturing more than hearts for minimally invasive surgery; for example, the company is working on applications like fetal imaging. A 3D holographic image of the developing uterus can offer a far clearer view than a two-dimensional ultrasound for more accurate “assessment, interaction, and measurement.” The possibility of obtaining a complete 360 degree view could also alert doctors to issues that might be somewhat obscured in a more traditional scan.
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