MediMedia provides common gateway to multi-modal medical images in European databases

Toulouse 16 March 2000In May 1998, a two-year umbrella research & development project was set up within the Health Telematics Programme of the Fourth Framework to enable the integration of multi-modality medical images in European databases. This MediMedia initiative, funded by the European Commission, originated from the collaborative actions of seven other projects dealing with medical image processing for different purposes, and builds on their results. The MediMedia consortium aims at designing a common search engine to access the medical images from the various projects' databases in a "one-stop" query by means of an innovative user interface.

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Medical Images Integration for Multi-media European Databases Interconnection and Common Access (MediMedia) is only able to succeed if the standardisation issue is properly addressed. The second objective of the MediMedia consortium therefore consists in the launch of an observatory of standards for medical imaging that will interact with standardisation bodies through periodic reports on the implementation of these standards. In a next stage, the multi-modal images have to be integrated into the patient record. This requires the smooth interoperability between systems that host images from various sources.

The consortium consists of companies, hospitals and universities from seven European countries. The members have built extensive experience in several imaging procedures and modalities in former projects such as Cardiassist for cardiac ultrasound, Gaster for digestive endoscopy, Medframe and Target for radiology, Iaeva and Eurorad for radiology and pathology, and Igos for pelvic surgery and orthopaedics. Springer-Verlag was associated to the project in the capacity of scientific publisher, in order to exploit the visual material for education and documentation purposes via both on- and off-line access. As a result, the search engine and the MediMedia application infrastructure will be connected to the on-line service, offered by Springer-Verlag to the general practitioners for medical information.

The search engine does not require the transfer of the multi-source images into a common database nor the harmonisation of primary image formats. Instead, the end user just needs to send one query that will be directed to any of the databases run by the participating projects. These databases will interface with the search engine through DICOM 3.0, the current standard for image exchange and will also organise the information around a standard terminology which will be selected among the existing ones. In turn, a visual integrator, which acts as a graphical interface will help the user to organise the query and retrieve the results as 3D models in a graphical environment.

Initially, the search engine demonstrator will be restricted to one anatomical area of interest, by focusing on the normal aspects and the pathology of the mediastinum. This anatomical region is indeed explored in clinical practice by different X-ray modalities, cardiac ultrasound procedures, endoscopy of the airways and of the oesophagus and specimens obtained by biopsy or by surgery, which are examined by pathologists. In a following stage, the search engine will transform into a full-fledged system of information for all medical disciplines dealing with images and will also constitute a platform to develop large libraries of referenced medical images.

The MediMedia demonstrator has been implemented in a series of university hospitals with a background in the area of medical informatics to assess the clinical use of medical images, delivered by the search engine. Additionally, the members of the consortium will initiate a programme of interaction with the European Association of Radiology as to link the search engine to a huge database of radiological images. Other scientific organisations will contribute to the definition of the MediMedia user requirements and the peer review of the project results as well, like the European Association of Pathologists; the European Society of Gastrointestinal Pathology, and the European Society of Cardiology. More details are available at the home page of the MediMedia project.


Leslie Versweyveld

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