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From Video Games To 3D Printing: What’s Next In Healthcare?

VR-image-skeleton-pulseThis week, the world’s leading minds in radiology are meeting in Vienna for the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), which highlights the trends, challenges and opportunities shaping the future of European healthcare. On the radar this year: how digital connectivity and big data, reduced radiation dose, and streamlined workflows are helping healthcare professionals improve clinical and operational outcomes and enhance their patients’ experience. This is one in a series of stories that looks at GE Healthcare innovations being highlighted at ECR, including a profile of some technologies that give us a glimpse into the future of healthcare delivery.

Imagine holding a plastic model of your own heart in your hand, complete with your unique chambers and valves. Or imagine your doctor could put on a pair Virtual Reality (VR) goggles to “step inside” the intricate pathways of your body, checking for anything out of the ordinary.

With new technologies from GE Healthcare, these sci-fi imaginations are coming closer to reality every day.

An inside job

Role-playing video games don’t often inspire groundbreaking technology that could revolutionize how doctors visualize human anatomy and diagnose disease.

But that’s exactly what happened when GE Healthcare designer Ludovic Avot and medical imaging engineer Yannick Le Berre played Fallout 4, a video game that guides players through post-apocalyptic Boston as a character referred to as the “Sole Survivor.”

According to PwC Health Research Institute’s annual report, VR is one of eight technologies that are a growing trend in the next generation of healthcare innovators.

As the video game buffs navigated through Fallout 4’s grim world, an odd inspiration struck: What if they used Virtual Reality (VR) video game technology to create a new technology that allows doctors step inside the human body?

Ludovic and Yannick decided to find out. They combined VR design tools and other gaming software with detailed 3D information from CT and MRI body scans to build a virtual experience complete with color, texture, light and other features.

“We were inspired by the photorealistic rendering techniques of the high-quality games,” Ludovic says. “We tried to exploit the great graphic and interactive potential of the most modern game technologies to show in detail the images obtained by medical tests.”

They presented their VR prototype during the Journées Francophones de Radiologie conference in Paris last year, and now the prototype is being tested with customers in France to help doctors study anatomy and diagnose disease.

Doctors can use VR headsets like the Oculus Rift® to “enter” a specific part of the body to examine any anomalies, such as polyps, tumors and lesions, or investigate injuries.

“This tool can be a new way for radiologists to observe complex clinical images,” says Ludovic. “It allows them to manipulate and interact with images and offers more extensive zoom, which may prove useful in specific cases, such as the study of the heart of children. The shadowing and the lightning greatly helps to understand the shapes of anatomical structures.”

VR-pulseFrom visualization to reality

AW Product Manager and application specialist Adeline Digard also helps clinicians see clinical images in a new way. She helped developed a 3D printing technique that allows doctors to use GE Healthcare’s AW Workstation to export images to a 3D printer.

Adeline is presenting her technology at ECR to show visitors how easy it is to print anatomical models from AW Workstation, an asset-management program for clinical images from CT, MR, PET and more.

“We’re showing the customer that the anatomical part we showed in virtual reality is now in print,” she says. “The customer will see exactly what they can do with 3D printing.”

In the last few years, 3D printing has become a staple topic in healthcare trends. A market research report by IndustryARC projects the 3D-printing healthcare market is expected to grow by 18 percent annually until 2020. And the PwC Health Research Institute’s annual report lists 3D printing as one of the growing trends in healthcare innovation.

Adeline says that her new technology was inspired by clinicians. “The request for this tool has come directly from our customers, especially for pediatrics because it’s very difficult to explain to parents what their children have. It’s easier to show them a 3D model instead of an image.”

Despite requests for this technology, Adeline says many physicians are still unsure how to incorporate 3D printing in their practices. They often have a misconception that it’s difficult to use.

“We provide a very simple solution,” she says. “You can easily do everything with 3D printing – make a bone, a finger, a hand but also a heart, an aorta or any arteries.”

Now that the first system is developed, she anticipates that more versions will push the technology even further. “We are the beginning of this story,” she says. “In two or three years, we are going to create even more innovations.”

Ludovic and Yannick also expect demand to increase for their VR technology, not only for diagnostics but also to practice procedures before surgeries, double check results post-surgery, and to collaborate on cases.

“We would like to use the multiplayer capabilities to allow multiple users to review the same case,” Ludovic says. “It’s a video game that all doctors will want to play.”

* This article refers to a technology in development that represents ongoing research and development efforts. This technology is not a product and may never become part of a product. It is not for sale and it is not cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other global regulator for commercial availability.

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