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Virtual Colonoscopy: from real to virtual pain

Amsterdam, 10 November 97 During the Euro-VR Mini-Conference '97 on Virtual Reality in Industry and Research which took place in Amsterdam on November 10th and 11th, Andy Marsh, project manager of Euromed, reported on a new technology to be used for examination and surgical treatment of the colon. Traditionally, colonoscopy is a rather painful operation for the patient who has to endure the physician's probing and manipulation for about fourty to sixty minutes. Research on virtual reality has resulted in a more friendly method based on a fly-through scopy.

Fancy yourself as a patient and feel a space ball navigating inside or outside the colon. With a little use of some imagination, you are able to experience the new technique called virtual colonoscopy. The physician wears a head mounted display and utilises the especially developed software Vega+Lynx which is expensive but trustworthy. You still might feel not all that comfortable but at least you're not in constant pain anymore.

Virtual colonoscopy can be executed in three different ways. It is possible to have a free fly-through examination as well as a fly-through to a predefined spot, depending on the physician's judgement. The high qualified tools also permit collision detection which constitutes a third approach to the colon problem. In either case, the patient needn't undergo but a quarter of the radiation quantity instead of half of it in the conventional colonoscopy. Virtual colonoscopy has the additional advantage of a quicker patient's recovery, as Marsh points out.

Anyway, a clear definition of virtual reality remains difficult to offer. Marsh has therefore tried to bring some formal structure into the virtual world by defining twenty building blocks to prevent that virtual reality should merely be utilised for technology's sake. By means of Virtual Reality Modelling Language (VRML), a 3-D representation of the body can be provided for. In a certain way, we move to a visualisation of reality instead of virtual reality, according to Marsh. To his idea, hospitals will become the cave simulators of the future.

The US project ANALYZE, lead by the Mayo Clinic in San Diego, California, comprises of over sixty programs allowing fully interactive display,manipulation and measurement of multidimensional image data. This technique is forming the basis for developing virtual surgery and surgery

planning techniques, such as Virtual Reality Assisted Surgery Program (VRASP) which is being developed at the Mayo Clinic. Marsh fully promotes the creation of a meta-centre to share computational support and is referring to the birth of Internet 2 in the USA as a similar initiative.

Virtual colonoscopy is but an element in a revolutionary change in medical approach. VMW reported on the twenty Euromed building blocks in the November issue and continues to offer you a glance in the further evolution of it in this issue. You can find more details in the section analysis and of course on the Euromed web site.

Leslie Versweyveld