Doctors Can Now Use Augmented Reality to Peek Under a Patient’s Skin

A new technology takes some of the guesswork out of medicine.

1. 25. 18 by Abby Norman
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Inside Out

Compared to the very first X-ray, which was taken well over a century ago, the medical imaging technology in use today is highly impressive. We can take clear pictures of the body’s internal organs, structures, and systems, and those images can help doctors make diagnoses or recommend treatments without having to pick up a scalpel.

More recent advances in medical imaging technology enable us to capture not only still images but moving ones, too. These allow doctors to see more than just a static moment in time; they can see the organs and systems in action.

Now, researchers at the University of Alberta are using augmented reality (AR) to one-up those traditional scans.

With ProjectDR, a doctor can bring up a patient’s medical imagery (such as a CT scan, for instance) and project it directly onto the patient’s body. This allows the physician to look at the scans within the context of the patient’s unique body.

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ProjectDR is also equipped with motion-tracking capabilities. Once the scan is displayed on the outside of the body, the tech uses infrared cameras and markers placed on the patient’s body to make minor adjustments as the person moves around. This keeps the scans aligned with the underlying anatomy.

The Doctor Will (Really) See You Now

The project was developed by two graduate students, Ian Watts and Michael Fiest. As Watts explained in the university’s press release, the project’s marriage of AR and medicine has many potential applications, including in “teaching, physiotherapy, laparoscopic surgery, and even surgical planning.”

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For now, the team is working to refine the tech. One goal is to enable doctors to see only certain segments of the body. The team is also working to improve the tech’s calibration, and they would like to add more features, such as depth sensors, that could help improve its accuracy.

To see how useful the tech could be in practice, ProjectDR will be included in surgical simulations. If it can pass the test in a simulated operating room, it would move on to pilot studies in a real OR. Eventually, any doctor who wanted it may have the opportunity to make use of the AR-assisted, inside-outside view provided by ProjectDR.

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