State of the art virtual reality system is key to medical discovery

A team of neurosurgeons from the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) recently stepped into CAVE2 — a next-generation, large-scale, 320-degree, immersive, 3-D virtual environment — to solve a vexing problem that presented itself in the arteries of the brain of a real patient.
The method they used could someday benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans who fall victim to brain aneurysms and strokes, the third leading cause of death in the United States.
“We were flabbergasted,” said Andreas Linninger, professor of bioengineering and lead researcher of a project that measures and models blood flow in the brains of patients with stroke.
For years, Linninger and neurosurgeons had painstakingly used laptop and desktop computers to evaluate patient-specific images, which had been interpreted by computer algorithms to represent the brain and its blood flow in 3-D. They pieced together arteries, veins and micro-vessels to create three-dimensional, full-brain models that physiologically mirrored the brains of individual patients, including a particular patient whose cerebrovascular system they were trying to accurately model.
But because of the limited image spatial-resolution of even today’s best-quality laptop and desktop computers, there was something the neurosurgeons couldn’t see. That is, until they stepped into an automatic virtual environment, also known as a “CAVE”–a room in which images are seamlessly displayed so as to immerse an observer in a cyber world of 3-D data.
“We had been looking at computer models of a particular patient’s brain for several months,” said Linninger, “but within five minutes of putting the model into the CAVE2, the chief endovascologist said we had connected certain arteries in a way that was inconsistent with anatomy.” With that revelation, their model could be corrected.