14 October 2005

e-Anatomy

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A new software has been developed to create 3-D models of the human body. The system will soon be applied for treatment in orthopaedic wards

Now in a test phase at the Université Libre in Brussels, new ‘VAKHUM’ software can create 3-D models of the human body. The system will soon be applied for treatment in orthopaedic wards.

Gino, 9, is a young boy who suffers from a slight paralysis on one side of his body. This pathological condition affects his joints and muscles. His doctors are trying to find the best course of treatment, but unfortunately the joints and the muscles are parts of the body that still remain quite unknown.

To help his doctors and researchers gain deeper knowledge about human body behaviour, Gino is now volunteering to test a new system called VAKHUM at the Université Libre in Brussels.

There, many researchers and doctors from across Europe are working together on innovative software that should be capable of processing 2-D images and data on body behaviour, to finally create a 3-D model of the human body. From this, virtual models of the child’s body can be made and this can then act as a tool in making the right diagnosis, and choosing the appropriate treatment.

The modelling consists of three stages: The first phase involves the use of a CT scanner. Gino is placed in the machine and has his body scanned. “Images must be taken from different angles, and then combined through the software, which is then capable of making 3-D models of the bone starting from the outline of the object on each picture -as if it were a drawing” explains Serge Sint Jans, VAKHUM Project manager.

In the second stage, Gino has his way of walking filmed. A modern lab is used that consists of several video cameras placed around a walkway, and linked to a computer. Gino has to walk down the walkway wearing infrared markers on the ‘anatomical landmark points’ of the his body, such as the pelvis and the knees.

To get a more detailed picture of the boy’s body, some other markers are fixed to a special metallic stick (called a wand) - a device, which was also developed by the VAKHUM team. As Serge Van Sint explains, thanks to this wand they can “determine the position of the tip in the space in relation to the markers here. We fix the tip on the skeleton, and then the system will start recording the position of the four markers and will determine where the point is.”

After the preparation phase, Gino walks, hops and runs down the walkway a few times. The cameras film the movement and send the data to the computer. In the meantime the system captions, processes and analyses the trajectory of the infrared markers in three dimensions. VAKHUM then applies a model to compute the underlying motion of the bones. This gives a full breakdown of the motion of each joint.

Finally, VAKHUM combines the images from the CT-scanner and the data on the body’s movement through special mathematical procedures, and creates a 3-D model of the Gino’s limb movements.

The tests should help the researchers and physiologists of the Vakhum project to gain a better understanding of the interactions between muscles, tendons and arteries. “We are now working on the creation of 3D modelling of the muscles. Once the muscle model is ready, we will add data information about the physiology activity of the muscles. This will be done in the near future.” – says Prof Dr Marcel Rooze, an Orthopaedist.

The Vakhum team’s main goal will then be to exploit the system’s capabilities when choosing the right treatment for the patients with locomotive trouble.

Those who could benefit from this are all classes of patients with pathologies that disturb their musculoskeletal system. For example, those who suffer from neurological problems such as cerebral palsy or from orthopaedic trouble, like arthritis.

The complexity of such diseases makes diagnosis extremely difficult even for highly trained clinicians. And such diagnosis is prone to error because of this subjective nature. The method developed by the VAKHUM team, with financial support from the EU, tries to achieve a more objective method of analysis.

Today, the VAKHUM team is focussing its research on the analysis of lower limbs, which are more frequently involved in degenerative pathologies. But the team intends to extend the study to all joint behaviour. This is needed in a Europe where such pathologies are becoming more frequent and often greatly reduce an individual’s abilities to lead a normal social and professional life.

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