Virtual Radiology Explorer uses supercomputing power to enable medical visualization

Amsterdam 16 March 1999 Modern medical visualization makes more and more use of image sources like computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With these sources 3D data sets can be produced that enhance the ability of specialists to analyze the condition of their patients. Despite the increased possibilities of acquiring data, clinical use of powerful tools to analyze the data, such as 3D rendering for example, is limited due to insufficient computing capacity being available on site. The "Virtual Radiology Explorer" project that is currently being set up at Academic Computing Services Amsterdam (SARA), aims to make available computing power on supercomputers for medical visualization purposes. End users will be able to access these resources from their PC desktop via high speed networks.

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Modern medical visualization makes more and more use of image sources like computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). With these sources 3D data sets can be produced that enhance the ability of specialists to analyze the condition of their patients. Despite the increased possibilities of acquiring data, clinical use of powerful tools to analyze the data, such as 3D rendering for example, is limited due to insufficient computing capacity being available on site. The "Virtual Radiology Explorer" project that is currently being set up at Academic Computing Services Amsterdam (SARA), aims to make available computing power on supercomputers for medical visualization purposes. End users will be able to access these resources from their PC desktop via high speed networks.

The results of the computations can be viewed under the form of 3D image data sets on the end user's PC or workstation. For larger medical facilities, it will be possible to use advanced systems like the ImmersaDesk(tm) to display data sets in a Virtual Reality environment that allows multiple observers to examine them simultaneously. The project is expected to be concluded at the end of 1999.

In the startup phase of Virtual Radiology Explorer, emphasis will be laid upon using the CAVE as a visualization tool for medical data sets. The CAVE is ideally suited for high performance 3D visualization and provides an equivalent means for inspecting CT and MRI scans, compared to the light box radiologists are so familiar with. Furthermore, the CAVE allows multiple users to investigate the same presentation simultaneously and discuss their findings with each other. Finally, the CAVE at SARA is linked to several high performance computers via high speed connections, which allows the interconnection between systems to be used in the initial stage of the project without the immediate need for a fast Internet connection, like the foreseen Internet-2 infrastructure.

In the second stage of the project, the ImmersaDesk, which is a portable VR system available at SARA, will be used as the primary visualization environment. The main advantage of the ImmersaDesk - also a projection based virtual environment - over the CAVE, is its portability and the fact that it can be set up in any environment in just a few minutes. The ImmersaDesk will allow radiologists to investigate their data sets from within their working environment, in a similar way compared to the use of the familiar light box, but with all the added features they have seen while using the CAVE.

In this stage of the project, a high-bandwidth Internet-2 connection will be required between the participating hospital(s) and SARA in Amsterdam. This network connection will be used for transmitting the acquired data from a CT or MRI scanner to a high performance computing (HPC) platform for analyses, and for downloading the analyzed data back to the hospital for visualization on the ImmersaDesk.

Since ImmersaDesks are generally not affordable for most regional or small hospitals, the third and last stage of the project aims to provide a desktop solution in the form of a PC workstation, enhanced with graphics and image processing acceleration cards. As there is a constant drive in the computer and electronics industry to make HPC techniques available in lower cost desktop solutions, e.g. by hardwiring or embedding complex algorithms in ASIC or DSP technology, the third stage of this project is aimed at developing such a solution.

The partners in the development of the Virtual Radiology Explorer are:

  • University of Amsterdam
    This partner has long experience in the parallelization of algorithms on massively parallel systems, and the 3D visualization of grid data using parallel surface extraction algorithms.
  • SARA
    SARA has expertise in volume visualization of medical data sets and the deployment of HPC systems for real time data set analyses.
  • MEDIS Medical Imaging Systems
    MEDIS has expertise in the analyses and presentation of medical data.
  • Arcobel ASIC Design Center
    Arcobel specializes in the design of efficient hardware for the on-line analyses and graphical presentation of data on workstation architectures.
  • IBM
    The IBM company will provide support for the switch-router in the IBM RS/6000 SP and the Internet 2 connectivity.
  • Canisius Hospital Nijmegen.
  • Leiden University Medical Center, department of Radiology


Aart-Jan van Amerongen

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