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Wall-sized images reveal human body in 3-D

UC IRVINE (US)—CT scans and other internal images from the human body can now be displayed in rotating three dimensions on what scientists believe is the world’s largest medical display.

New software, developed by researchers at UC Irvine’s California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, expands the potential applications for the institute’s 200-megapixel HIPerWall, a tiled display of 50 computer screens. The configuration allows scientists to view and manipulate huge datasets in extremely high definition.

With the improvements, radiologists can now change tissue image transparency and color for teaching and diagnosis.

“We can make the skin and brain transparent so we can see a tumor, or we can make blood vessels light up in a certain color,” says Joerg Meyer, UC Irvine professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

“In the past, user interfaces were mainly designed by computer scientists dealing with abstract numbers,” adds Meyer. “We made the user interface relevant to radiologists and biologists by giving them a tool that automatically finds clusters in data and suggests tissue-specific transparencies and colors.”

Since 2005, HIPerWall, has been able to display two-dimensional images and video. It can now provide 400 megavoxels in full 3-D, rotating images to give scientists high-resolution views from all angles. A voxel in 3-D is what a pixel is in 2-D.

The task was daunting, Meyer explains, because the software had to be written so that each computer could process and render a small piece of the total image.

“When you’re working with a two-dimensional image, you just cut the image into tiles and each computer needs access only to the part of the dataset it will display. But in three dimensions, the image rotates, and its individual pieces will likely move from one screen to another, requiring data to move between computers.”

The solution involved meshing two key technologies, Meyer explains. In the first, tiny “bricks” of information move from one computer to another. The second, more important technology breaks down details in images, stores them in separate files and renders data at different resolutions. This technique keeps computers from slowing down as they process massive datasets.

When combined the two techniques provide a one-of-a-kind software backbone which allows the rendering of large medical data sets in real time, Meyer explains.

The new software is attracting attention in biomedical engineering and civil engineering research as well as medicine.

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