Immersive 3D simulation environment helps radiotherapists visualize cancer treatment plans

Hull 24 September 2003A large-scale immersive display system is helping university and industry researchers at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom gain deeper understanding of highly complex data. The ability to view and manipulate three-dimensional models and simulations in an immersive, volumetric space is enhancing communications and improving collaboration among research teams. In a recent project, the system helped the staff at an area medical centre demonstrate how 3D visualization can improve the planning and administration of radiation treatment for cancer patients.

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Immersive display system

In a recent collaboration with a regional medical organisation, researchers created a simulation of an actual radiotherapy unit of a local hospital, the Princes Royal Hospital in Hull. The simulation was intended to illustrate how planning in 3D benefits state-of-the-art radiation treatment, by improving the way radiation treatments are targeted to follow tumour geometry and avoid undue exposure of close lying, healthy organs.

The hospital uses a Linear Accelerator to deliver x-ray beams that allow customized radiation treatment to each patient using a technique known as Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT). This technique is state-of-the-art and has only been adopted by a handful of hospitals in the world so far. The x-ray beam of the accelerator is shaped to conform to the shape of tumour using a computer controlled multi-leaf collimator, which is a special kind of shutter system that shapes the radiation beam.

Furthermore, the intensity of a beam is customized so that the superposition of several such beams, applied from different directions, creates the most ideal dose distribution for each patient. The researchers programmed a geometrically accurate computer model of the accelerator for use in the simulation. The simulator loads treatment plan information and the Computerized Tomography (CT) scan data of an actual patient's tumour to create a virtual environment simulation for a patient's course of treatment.

Using a Fakespace PowerWall, all of this data is displayed in realistic 3D imagery, providing an immersive view of the tumour and the radiation beams, which are normally invisible, used to treat the cancer. The initial aim of this research project was simply as a demonstration for the general public to provide a better understanding of how radiation therapy works.

Medical practitioners collaborated with computer visualization experts at the University of Hull to create a virtual environment simulation of 3D radiation therapy treatment, viewed here on a Fakespace Systems PowerWall at the University's HIVE Centre.
Photo courtesy of FS Communications.

Hospital personnel were so impressed by the virtual environment simulations that work is now underway to further develop the simulation as a tool for training radiotherapists. Furthermore a study is being planned to determine the benefits of immersive visualization for creating and reviewing radiation treatment plans.

Funded by the Strategic Research Investment Funding (SRIF) initiative of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Hull Immersive Visualization Environment (HIVE) Centre provides state-of-the-art equipment, expertise and technologies for work with visualization, human interaction, and high-performance computing.

Staffed by teams with specialization in advanced visualization and related fields, the HIVE Centre assists researchers developing applications across a broad range of scientific study. The facility includes a 72 CPU high performance computing cluster, a Visualization Auditorium, a Visualization Technology Laboratory and a Research Laboratory.

The centerpiece of the facility, the Visualization Auditorium, features a PowerWall from Fakespace Systems, which was purchased through Antycip S.A., a value-added reseller based in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. This is a three-by-five meter (10-ft x 16-ft) flat wall solution that enables viewing of large-scale stereoscopic models and simulations.

When viewed with special active shutter glasses, applications running on the PowerWall appear in three-dimensional space. The auditorium is designed to support group immersive interaction. It seats up to 40 people for multimedia presentations that include stereo visualization. The auditorium stage has a motion-tracking system, so that the viewpoint of the system provides realistic motion parallax. As the primary "user" in a simulation changes position, the viewpoint of the application on the PowerWall changes, enhancing the immersive experience.

Ongoing work at the HIVE Centre includes biomedical simulation and visualization, scientific visualization in chemistry and geography, archeological visualization, immersive visualization for diagnosis and treatment in medicine, sports performance assessment, and virtual prototyping and design optimization in engineering.

Fakespace Systems designs and manufactures advanced interactive visualization systems and integrates complete enterprise-wide solutions for a variety of organisations. Interactive visualization improves collaboration, discovery and learning for applications in automotive, aerospace, biotechnology, education, federal government, geophysical exploration, manufacturing, scientific research, and virtual prototyping. Fakespace Systems is headquartered in Marshalltown, Iowa, USA. The company has global office locations in Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

More information about the collaboration which involved the Simulation and Visualization Group at the University of Hull and the Department of Radiation Physics of the Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, can be found at the Hullrad Radiation Physics Services Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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