When could a video game possibly save your life? A new imaging technology, now being used at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, has direct links to video games. It can provide detailed views of patients’ bodies -- helping surgeons plan and execute complicated operations with much more confidence.
Those who think that developing video games software has no other purpose than entertainment should think again.
So says Dr. Brian Butler, a radiation oncologist at Houston Methodist hospital and the principal author of a new imaging technology called Plato’s CAVE. “Computer engineers and video gamers -- really propelled this type of technology into a possibility,” he said.
CAVE is a powerful processing technology, based on both Microsoft and Apple software, which quickly imports data collected by other imaging machines -- such as CT, MRI and PET scanners -- and converts it into detailed images.
Similar to the graphics in a video game, the multidimensional color images are displayed on a touch-sensitive screen, enabling doctors to manipulate them and virtually “fly” through body parts from all directions, rotate them and zoom in and out.
One of the surgeons who uses Plato’s CAVE, Mas Takashima, said being able to clearly visualize the operation area is the key to successful surgery.
“When you have the data so you can then visualize exactly what's going on, it definitely decreases the stress level or the anxiety level of just wondering, 'oh, is there a possibility that that blood vessel might be, you know, wrapped around this tumor? “ said Takashima.
Recently, surgeons used the CAVE system to plan a difficult operation on a patient who had accidentally shot himself with a crossbow. They were able to clearly see where the arrow entered the skull and how close it was to critical blood vessels.
But not too long ago, even prominent physicians were skeptical about scanner-imaging technology. Dr. Robert Grossman, who teaches neurological surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital, remembers an experience from 1963.
“When the first CT scan was announced, the chief of neuro-radiology at our hospital - he was a very distinguished individual, I won't mention his name - he said to us, 'boys, this is a hoax,'" said Grossman.
Now, experts say, this is only the beginning. And they say medical imaging technology will get even better as time goes on.