Doctors could soon put down scalpels and peek under patients' skin, thanks to a new augmented reality system that displays internal anatomy right on the body, scientists say.
The system, called ProjectDR, allows medical images such as CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to be displayed directly on a patient's body in a way that moves as the patient does.
"We wanted to create a system that would show clinicians a patient's internal anatomy within the context of the body," said Ian Watts from University of Alberta in Canada.
Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are "augmented" by computer-generated perceptual information.
The technology in the new system includes a motion- tracking system using infrared cameras and markers on the patient's body, as well as a projector to display the images.
However, the really difficult part, Watts said, is having the image track properly on the patient's body even as they shift and move.
The solution: custom software written by Watts that gets all of the components working together.
"There are lots of applications for this technology, including in teaching, physiotherapy, laparoscopic surgery and even surgical planning," said Watts, who developed the technology with fellow graduate student Michael Fiest.
ProjectDR also has the capacity to present segmented images - for example, only the lungs or only the blood vessels - depending on what a clinician is interested in seeing.
Watts is working on refining ProjectDR to improve the system's automatic calibration and to add components such as depth sensors.
The next steps are testing the programme's viability in a clinical setting, said Pierre Boulanger, a professor at the University of Alberta.
"Soon, we will deploy ProjectDR in an operating room in a surgical simulation laboratory to test the pros and cons in real-life surgical applications," said Boulanger.