3-D images help docs 'see' inside patients

SINGAPORE - New technology developed by researchers at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) will allow doctors to "see" the muscles and skeletons of patients as they run, dance or kick a ball.

The collaboration between the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and the Institute for Media Innovation (IMI) began last month, and aims to create instant imaging for doctors to access a 3-D virtual model of each patient.

Current technology allows the high-resolution capture of only 2-D images, which does not provide comprehensive data about the stresses and strains on joints during movement.

"If 3-D technology can show movement as well as structure, the way the body works becomes much clearer," said Professor Martyn Partridge, senior vice-dean of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at NTU.

This breakthrough is based on motion capture technology, which is more commonly used in animation or video game development.

"We put sensors on the body, and when you run, we can record the data," explained Professor Nadia Thalmann, director of the IMI.

This information is then combined with images of the skeleton and muscles taken from a magnetic resonance imaging scan, which is conducted separately.

It is the marriage of these two technologies which creates the moving virtual 3-D models. The models are accurate to 1.5mm, which helps in diagnosis.

The project is based on previous research by Prof Thalmann at the University of Geneva, which modelled the hip joints of 12 ballerinas.

Now, with the collaboration between the Lee Kong Chian school and the IMI, she is hoping to assess more patients here, while studying many different areas of the body.

Prof Thalmann and her team are also aiming to cut down the processing time of the virtual models from a 20-minute lapse to real time, so doctors can see the simulation as the patient moves. They hope that in five years, this technology could be ready for clinical use.

Eventually, 3-D modelling could also be used to help patients understand more about what is going on in their bodies.

"In future, you could be sitting on the bus, and if you have data, you could pull up the 3-D image. In this way, the patient will be able to detect what is going on by looking at the simulation," said Prof Thalmann.


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