Friday, June 12, 2009

Center for Biomolecular Imaging

On Thursday, June 11, 2009, five Carpenter Library staff members experienced via computers the Center for Biomolecular Imaging. Computer Programmer Josh Tan shared movies, fly-throughs and his knowledge about imaging computers and scanners for research and patient care.

First, tourists learned about the differences between a CT scan, MRI scan and a PET scan. A CT scan can see the anatomy of a body and the actual scan is fast. A MRI sees soft tissue and takes longer to scan while a PET scan uses radioactivity to see tumors.

Since the Center for Biomolecular Imaging is for research purposes, it has seven scanners for different animals. For example, there is a Micro MRI and PET scanner. The newest technology now allows researchers and clinicians to see 3-D and 4-D images, almost in real time. Picture a loaf of bread as a whole body with each slice of bread representing a cross-sectional/scanned image of the body part/area. The thinner the slice of bread, the easier it is to see a 3-D image.

The neat part of all this is that surgeons can log in to the network and with special computers located in the real operating room, the surgeon can pull up and manipulate the images of the patient on the table to make sure everything is correct. There is no popcorn involved with these movies but there is the ability to see a heart, for example, beating outside of the body on a computer screen. There are many different ways to manipulate the images, as Mr. Tan shared. He electronically flew the tourists through a colon, also known as a virtual colonoscopy which was invented here at WFUBMC.

Mr. Tan also shared how to convert a virtual model into a 3-D real model, known as 3-D printing. Basically the images from a CT scan move through several programs to an elaborate ink jet printer that uses potato starch to print a 3-D model. He said it took six hours for a skull to print because it is "built" on the printer, layer after layer being printed until it is done. When done, the model is dipped in super glue to seal it and then anyone can touch it, feel it, hold it.

Next up is Holographic Medical Imaging which is still being mastered. This involves surgeons pulling up a holographic image within the real operating room and being able to rotate the image with a laser finger pointer.

And if that wasn't too interesting, the CBI has its own version of those famous crash test dummies through a grant from the Department of Transportation for Finite Element Modeling. The CBI staff studies a lot of car crashes with its imaging computers. Virtual car crashes and models, created by scanning humans, are less expensive to create and study than the crash test dummies with sensors and real cars.

And last up, besides seeing a real CT scanner, is a rat movie. Mr. Tan showed how a movie or 3-D model can be used in a PDF including rotating it and changing it from a skin view to bones-only view. Being able to place movies and 3D images into a PDF is helpful to researchers as well as medical students.

And while Wake Forest medical students still practice dissections, they were the first ones in the country starting about four years ago to receive images on a CD of the cadavers they were going to dissect. Mr. Tan said CBI staff scans the cadavers and creates a movie of the images for the students to study and learn the anatomy before going into the anatomy lab.

Wake Forest medical students should feel blessed to have custom-made movies just as some WFUBMC employees were honored to be able to experience the fascinating tasks and equipment used by fellow coworkers.