Touring the Body in 3-D

Come inside the body on a 3-D tour with Dr. Manny. Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College are stepping inside the "CAVE" for a closer look at the future of medicine


    Studying Cell Function

    It's changed the way we watch movies and now researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College are using 3-D technology to get a better look at the human body. Dr. Harel Weinstein, chairman of Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medical College, gave Dr. Manny Alvarez a tour of CAVE, which stands for ‘Cave Automatic Virtual Environment.’ CAVE works by using a mathematical algorithm to rearrange normal two-dimensional MRI data segments to create a 3-D object. The result is a room where researchers can actually stand inside a representation of the anatomical structures they are studying.

    Inside a Human Cell

    Until now, this type of reconstruction that a computer made from data was not accessible to the human eye. Now, physicians can interact with the data and actually see the cells in their true, 3-D state, which was not possible before. Weinstein shows Dr. Manny how researchers are able to view how the cell presents itself to other parts of the body and how it communicates with the brain. "From a medical point of view, these are the targets of all the medications that we use," Weinstein said.

    Understanding the Brain

    Researchers can go inside cells, organs and just about anywhere in the human body.  "With images that are done segment by segment, point by point, which then we reconstruct so that we can have a complete representation of an organ into which obviously we cannot penetrate, such as the brain," Weinstein said.

    Exploring Your Mind

    Dr. Barry Kosofsky, chief of the division of pediatric neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, also has high expectations for the new technology. Currently, he is studying cocaine usage during pregnancy and what effect it has on a child’s brain. “We’re asking if the brain structure is any different now, compared with control [children] that were born in the same city at the same time, as a consequence of the mother taking drugs,” Kosofsky said.

    Peeling Away the Mysteries of the Brain

    Once inside, physicians can ‘move’ through the 3-D object and peel away its layers with the use of the remote. The CAVE helped Kosofsky’s research by allowing him to virtually explore different parts of the brain to see exactly which structures had been changed in comparison to the control group of children. “What this technology lets us do is get a better sense of how those brains are structurally different,” Kosofsky said. With this research, Kosofsky hopes that physicians will be able to identify children who have had significant enough exposure that they are at risk for addiction themselves. This would allow physicians to intervene selectively and try to help those children.

    Seeing Better Than Ever

    Dr. Szilard Kiss, an ophthalmologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and Weill Cornell Medical College, uses the CAVE technology to better understand disease processes in the eye. “It allows us to understand how certain structures interact, what might be going on in certain diseases," Kiss said. “When we look at an X-ray, when we look at an MRI, we’re looking at one flat picture,” Kiss said. “It doesn’t really tell the whole story. It’s much easier to appreciate the anatomy if we go into three-dimensionality.” Kiss likens the CAVE technology to “shrinking yourself down and going inside the eye.”
    “But it’s not only going inside the eye,” he added. “It’s going inside the layers of the retina.”

    Putting Technology to Work

    In a case of one of Kiss’s patients, who had poor vision because of scar tissue growing over his retina, the CAVE technology was able to help Kiss isolate where the ridge of the scar tissue was located. “The ridge was not obvious from two-dimensional images,” Kiss said. “When we brought it up into this three-dimensional cave is really where I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment.” The location of the ridge was crucial because, to treat the patient’s symptoms, it was necessary to go in with very small instruments, grab the ridge and peel it off the retina. “[He] really benefited from the three-dimensionality that’s offered by this technology,” Kiss said.
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