App’s map of the human body also charts next generation of surgery

The muscles and bones around the spinal column, as seen in the BioDigital Human app for iPad.

Courtesy of BioDigital

The muscles and bones around the spinal column, as seen in the BioDigital Human app for iPad.

Thanks to 3D mapping technology you can peek at Central Park, walk the Great Wall of China or even zoom in on the Big Dipper without leaving your sofa.

Now a new map lets you explore locations much, much closer to home – like your bones, muscles, brain and heart.

The BioDigital Human, which launched this week as an app for iPhone and iPad, is like Google Maps for the human body, allowing users to zoom, tap and explore underneath layers of skin, muscle and bone. By viewing the 3D model from every angle, users can learn how various bodily systems function and take a look at how conditions from acne to whooping cough play out beneath the surface.

“Essentially the goal was to make medicine easier to understand,” said Aaron Oliker, director of 3D technologies for Soho-based tech company BioDigital.

A screengrab from the BioDigital Human app for iPad shows the cardiovascular system.

Courtesy of BioDigital

A screengrab from the BioDigital Human app for iPad shows the cardiovascular system.

The company creates 3D animations for medical and educational organizations, and “eventually we started building up the entire human body as a result,” Oliker told the Daily News. “And what we really realized is, we’re creating a platform for understanding the human body, much like Google Maps or Google Earth.”

BioDigital’s work is also playing an important role in health and medicine – like changing the way doctors around the world learn to do surgeries.

For the non-profit Smile Train, the company recently built the first 3D, open access surgical simulator to teach cleft lip and palate surgeries to doctors in developing countries.

Smile Train’s simulator allows surgeons-in-training to explore the intricate procedures in 3D, from angles they wouldn’t get to see in the operating room and observe each step of the process, from incision marks to stitching, based on the work of expert surgeons.

Smile Train medical director Dr. Roberto Flores demonstrates the cleft lip and palate virtual surgery simulator to a student at Indiana University.

Courtesy of Smile Train

Smile Train medical director Dr. Roberto Flores demonstrates the cleft lip and palate virtual surgery simulator to a student at Indiana University.

The surgeries, which correct craniofacial deformities in children, are “three-dimensionally complicated,” said Dr. Roberto Flores, Smile Train’s medical director for the project and director of craniofacial surgery at Indiana University’s Riley Hospital for Children.

In a cleft lip procedure on a 3-month old baby, surgeons operate “on an area the size of a dime,” Flores said. “We’re raising tiny little flaps and making very precise cuts to reform the lip and nose, and we have to teach people to do this in an accurate manner.”

Previously surgeons in India, China and African nations had to prepare for operative training with outdated textbooks, videos or animations, none of which are ideal. Watching videos, “you’re stuck with one camera angle and it’s very bloody,” Oliker said, while animations are time-consuming, costly and only provide a single perspective.

Using 3D media “opens it up,” Oliker said. “Your understanding really just goes through the roof because you have that ability to rotate.”

The Smile Train virtual surgery simulator allows surgeons in training to view the complicated operations from multiple angles, unlike reading a book or watching a video.

Courtesy of Smile Train

The Smile Train virtual surgery simulator allows surgeons in training to view the complicated operations from multiple angles, unlike reading a book or watching a video.

And because the tool is web-based and open source, anyone in the world can log in for free.

“There are plenty of surgical simulators out there, but very few people are using them because of the cost,” said Flores. With this simulator, “you can be in an Internet cafe in Nepal and access this, and learn to do cleft lip and palate care.”

Dr. Court Cutting, a retired professor of plastic surgery New York University Medical School who directed the cleft lip and palate program, created the first surgical animations for the procedures with Oliker in the school’s virtual surgery lab.

Cutting, himself a computer programmer, is now focused on creating an even more advanced generation of surgical simulators. These would function like a video game, allowing students to make their own incisions and see the results within a virtual environment.

Plastic surgery residents at Stomatological Hospital of Wuhan University view Smile Train's 3D surgical simulator for cleft lip and palate surgeries. The simulator is seen as a better training alternative than textbooks or video because it allows surgeons to view the complicated procedures from all angles.

Courtesy of Smile Train

Plastic surgery residents at Stomatological Hospital of Wuhan University view Smile Train’s 3D surgical simulator for cleft lip and palate surgeries. The simulator is seen as a better training alternative than textbooks or video because it allows surgeons to view the complicated procedures from all angles.

Currently surgeons are trained by an apprenticeship method in which residents perform real surgeries while supervised by a more experienced doctor. If the resident draws an incision mark incorrectly, the supervisor is ready to step in and make the correct mark.

That’s better for patients, of course, but it doesn’t allow students to learn from their errors, Cutting said.

“What students need to do is make mistakes,” he said. “You don’t want to make them on a real human body. In a simulator you can do it and you won’t hurt anyone.”

That technology is still years off. In the meantime, Smile Train’s sophisticated, free of cost simulator puts cleft lip and palate surgery “way ahead” of other fields, Cutting said.

The BioDigital Human app provides a window into diseases and conditions including Stage 4 lung cancer.

Courtesy of BioDigital

The BioDigital Human app provides a window into diseases and conditions including Stage 4 lung cancer.

Fueled by the new technology, Smile Train expects to conduct its one millionth surgery in April 2014.

BioDigital is now working on 3D simulators for other areas of medicine and healthcare, from dental surgeries to physical therapy and yoga.

Using that research, they’ll keep adding new, more complex layers to their 3D map of the body. “It’s like a living document,” Oliker said. “We’re always building more.”

tmiller@nydailynews.com

Want a sneak peek of the BioDigital Human app? Take a look at the anatomy of the brain in the interactive image below.


Health – NY Daily News

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