Visualizing Health Research

~ By Joy Zaccarai  ~  Big Walls, 3-D Help Education, Collaboration Regardless of the politics that surround health care issues and questions about who is going to pay for what, money for research is well spent. As visual technology evolves,
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Big Walls, 3-D Help Education, Collaboration

~ By Joy Zaccaria ~

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Image from the Visual Human Project at the NIH National Library of Medicine

Regardless of the politics that surround health care issues and questions about who is going to pay for what, money for research is well spent. As visual technology evolves, health care professionals are presented with more sophisticated collaboration techniques. When it’s a matter of life and death, every moment is precious in order to reach a decision quickly. Better collaboration functionality with quick access to pertinent information like x-rays, an MRI or the opinion of a doctor at another hospital is key.

The National Institutes of Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Some examples of how new visualization technology is changing the way work is done can be found at a few NIH facilities. The facilities tackle different scales of the health world, from cellular level to individuals to public health.

Cyviz, a Norway-based manufacturer of advanced visualization and collaboration systems with offices in Houston and Washington, D.C., figures prominently in the world of healthcare technology. The common theme is that by projecting high-resolution images and video onto a largeformat screen, many different aspects are united that formerly had to be viewed or accessed separately.

Bringing together all the different media on one large screen, facilities are able to reach a new level of collaboration. Here’s a look at four of them.

At the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit in Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., there is a wall of collaboration space in the Baier Media Room, the Cyviz 3-Channel Bizwall. The collaboration is not limited to those in the room since it is connected to a Tandberg 6000 videoconferencing system with a high-def camera. Those at the Children’s Hospital are able to confer with medical experts at NIH, Bethesda Naval Hospital, Walter Reed Army Hospital and Landstuhl military hospital in Germany (the main hospital for treating wounded U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan).

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The display at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The system in the Children’s Hospital went live this past February. Philip Hopkins and Dana Grant configured the layout of the equipment in the room and they are now responsible for supporting the teleconferencing systems in the hospital.

During the pre-op preparation, a surgical team can look at multiple images such as the patient’s EKG, video of beating heart, and patient medical data. All the images from diagnostic equipment from four different networks are run into this media room along with other computers that can display material on the Bizwall. With the four-picture-inpicture option, they can display four different sources on the Bizwall at the same time.

“The room had to be somewhere in close proximity to the patients,” said Grant. “So after the doctors discuss the case, they can walk across the hall and see the patients.”

In the past, everything was on separate, proprietary networks.

“If you wanted to look at an echocardiogram, you’d have to go to the main portion of the hospital, go into a cave and look on a small monitor with a group of doctors all scrunched in,” said Grant. “If you wanted to look at an MRI, you’d have to go to another room in another section of the hospital. Now we can put up all the relevant information on one wall so they can look at it at one place at one time.”

As far as the operation of the system itself, there are many different components to it. “The Cyviz piece of it is fairly simple,” said Grant. “It’s the blended projection system, the screen, and the controller to move and resize the pictures on the screen.”

Used in conjunction with the Bizwall, a ClearOne 880T system is used for audio processing. There are five microphones on the conference table that are fed into the ClearOne system and mixed with echo cancellation. All the switching between the different components—the Tandberg and the sources for the Tandberg—are run through an AMX touchpanel.

To make the Bizwall, there are three projectors that project a blended image onto a screen that is about 16 feet long by 5-feet-7-inches, for a total resolution of 3560x1050. The base chassis for the projectors are the projectiondesign F30s, to which Cyviz adds specialized cards for the blending and consistent color blending.

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A branch of the NIH is the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Within that facility is The Office of High Performance Computing and Communications (OHPCC) in Bethesda, Md. Terry S. Yoo is the head of the 3D Informatics Group there and he uses one Cyviz Viz3D passive stereo display system to maximize the usefulness of the work done in the Visual Human Project.

The project was conceived and executed a number of years ago by the NLM. It is one of the most exhaustive anatomical studies ever performed on two humans— one male and one female. The concept was to take a human subject and slice it at one-millimeter thicknesses. The female was sliced to onethird of a millimeter. The exposed sections were photographed so when reassembled digitally, you can get a look in the human body. “Our intention when we bought the Cyviz system, and the NVidia Quadro Plex D2 rendering system that goes with it, was to render the 17 gigabyte, color cryosection, Visible Human Project male data set in stereo, in real time,” said Yoo.

Yoo considers these displays to be full scale, human scale. “If you talk to the radiologist about a chest xray, they are looking at images created directly from the human anatomy directly on to the film,” he said. “It’s basically a one-to-one projection and full scale.” For the Visual Human Project, it seemed extreme to project something six feet across, since people are so used to looking at a small screen, said Yoo— when in fact, that’s the actual size.

The image is about eight feet across. “We needed it to be as large as possible and as bright as possible,” said Yoo. “This isn’t just for display; we work in the lab with the projectors running, so the lights have to be on.”

There are between 10 and 15 Dell WUXGA (1920x1200) screens in the lab. Yoo wanted the projectors to match that resolution so what they saw on a screen on one of the desktops would match the display.

They don’t just display anatomical data there. The 3D also helps when digesting statistical data, such as a 3D scatter plot.

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The three-channel Bizwall at the Computational Epidemiology Research Lab at the University of North Texas

“The combined effect of motion parallax— being able to move it and see what was in front of something else, and the stereo—made a huge impact on our ability to look at the data,” said Yoo. “Stereo lends support in the ability to discriminate shape and spacial relationships.”

The Bizwall is Cyviz’s most popular product and at the University of North Texas, its business is providing the visuals for those researching and developing methodology to help public health experts understand how a disease, epidemic, or pandemic manifests itself in a population. Dr. Armin R. Mikler is the director of the Computational Epidemiology Research Lab in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the university. He uses a three-channel front projected Bizwall as well as a Viz3D.

The visualization room was established about a year ago with this system and is in the main campus in the Institute of Applied Science. The Cyviz infrastructure and computational infrastructure are forming the technological backbone for the center by uniting many different aspects. Its biggest advantage, and also a great challenge, is that it is interdisciplinary. The 10 Ph.D. students working there are from computer science, environmental science, biology, geography, biostatistics and epidemiology. They are all contributing to an effort.

“The big screen is our canvas where we are putting the science together,” said Mikler. “The material on each of their workstations can be transferred up to the big screen. When doing data analysis or running a simulation, we use PiP technology to display the data on the big screen.” As new information becomes available it is integrated in real time.

Three projectors are edge-blended to create a 19-foot wall of data. “The advantage is the visualization capability that allows you to merge information from multiple sources and present it all at the same time,” said Mikler. “You don’t have to go sequentially anymore and it’s at a resolution that makes it easy to explore the data.”