History of the VOXEL-MAN Project at the University Medical Center
1969 First Computer at the UKE
Prof. Klaus Dieter Vogt (1921-2004), head of the Clinical Chemical Laboratory and Dr. Hans Otto Wüster (1927-1985), head of Information Technology at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY in Hamburg agree on a cooperative study for investigating the potential of computer application in medicine. DESY provides the first computer in the medical center for this project. The physicist Dr. Karl Heinz Höhne (*1937) and coworkers develop a system for acquisition and analysis of laboratory tests. With the system ("LABMAT", in routine use until 1974), one of the first worldwide, it is shown that the application of computers decisively improves efficiency and quality of a clinical laboratory.
1971 Computer Analysis of Scintigrams
On the initiative of Dr. Dragutin Nowak the DESY working group develops together with Prof. Claus Schneider and Dr. Ricardo Montz (Department of Nuclear Medicine)) a novel system for interactive analysis of images indicating the distribution of radioactivity in the body delivered by a gamma camera (system ISAAC). For this purpose one of the first bitmap displays (64X64 pixels, 16 gray levels) is developed within the project (today one would call this a graphics card). The interaction with the system is via a "light pen". One of the successful applications is the detection of brain death. ISAAC is in routine use for 5 years until its replacement by a commercial system.
The DESY working group develops in cooperation with the Department of Radiology (Prof. Egon Bücheler) a system for quantitative analysis of angiograms, sequences of X-ray images showing the propagation of a contast medium. The objective is the diagnostic quantification of blood perfusion in organs such as the kidney, liver, lung and the heart. The project is funded by the government with one million DM. Cutting edge computer science tools are developed from scratch: A multiprocessor system for real time acquisition and display of image sequences, special computer languages for their analysis and storage in a data base. The latter one runs on a mainframe computer at DESY connected with a 40,8 kbits/s data line. However, the project does not meet the expectations for diagnostic radiology. Despite the elaborate computers science methods, principle properties of the 2D-X-ray data did not allow the extraction of relevant diagnostic information. While concentrating on high end technology it is overlooked that merely the simple preprocessing step of background subtraction yields a diagnostically relevant improvement of image contrast. This technique, promoted by other researchers, becomes known as Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA).
1978 Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science in Medicine
Karl Heinz Höhne is appointed professor and director of the Department of Computer Science in Medicine within the newly founded institute. The now formed common DESY/UKE working group has the potential for new activities.
1978-1985 Development of Concepts for Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS)
Digital images become more and more common in diagnostic radiology. Using a specially developed language (ISQL - image SQL) a user interface is created for an Oracle data base containing the image data. A demonstration data base, already then with a touch screen, shows the feasibility of the concept. For the discussion of the state of the art the institute organizes the NATO Advanced Study Institute "Pictorial Information Systems in Medicine" in Braunlage, Germany, where EUROPACS, the European Association for Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) is founded. Because of lacking network and hardware standards and capabilities the method is not mature for a broad application at that time. Since the challenges are more organizational than scientific, PACS research is no longer pursued.
1983 First 3D reconstructions from microscopic specimens
In cooperation with the Department of Microscopic Anatomy (Prof. Adolf Friedrich Holstein and Dr. Wolfgang Schulze) for the first time 3D views of the human seminiferous tubules are computed from microscopic image sequences. It is shown that the production of sperms is located on a spiral according to their state of maturity.
1984 First Reconstructions from Radiological ImagesIn cooperation with the Department of Radiology first reconstructions from computer tomograms (CT) and magnetic resonance tomograms (MRI) are created. They are shown at the Congress of the German Radiological Society in 1984 and more or less received as gimmicks.
During a sabbatical at the IBM Palo Alto Scientific Center in the Silicon Valley Prof. Höhne has access to computers with a capacity exceeding those available in Hamburg by far. Using them he pioneers together with Ralph Bernstein a novel graphics algorithm ("gray scale gradient shading ") that creates 3D views with unprecedented realism. This method becomes the standard for the 3D visualization from Computer Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). While the computation of a single view takes minutes in 1985, today (2016) a modern PC can compute them in real time.
Prof. Hans-Joachim Höltje of the Department of Dental, Oral and Maxillo-facial Surgery of the UKE learns at a congress in Philadelphia about the developments in his own Medical School. From the first contact a successful cooperation evolves lasting for years. Among the first in the world 3D models (also as stereolithographic 3D prints) are used at the UKE for planning craniofacial interventions in clinical routine.
1986-1988 A Series of Innovations
The novel method is tested with image data delivered by the Department of Radiology and Siemens. For the first time it allows the 3D view to the brain (1986,1987) and the beating heart (1988) of living persons via Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The demonstrations, partly already in stereoscopic mode, are highlights at the congresses of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago in these years. The Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science in Medicine becomes a destination for visitors of all parts of the world.
1986 The Project Gets the Name "VOXEL-MAN"The name is derived from the term Voxel, the description of a three-dimensional pixel.The 3D models of the VOXEL-MAN Project are compounds of such voxels. Occasionally the name Voxel-Man is also used as a general term for a digital representation of the human body.
The expectation that the new possibilities would be soon accepted as instruments in radiology or surgical disciplines such as neurosurgery did not become true. It turns out that 3D imaging is not a substantial advance in radiological diagnosis. For surgical planning and simulation the advance is obvious. However, the step into the virtual world is too big, the more so as with the then available hardware the handling of the new tools is time-consuming and cumbersome. Today (2016) preoperative and even intraoperative 3D visualization is standard in many surgical disciplines.
1987 VOXEL-MAN as Add-on in the Siemens Magnetom Tomograph
As first commercial device at all the Siemens Magnetom tomograph offers an early version of the VOXEL-MAN software for 3D visualization. Yet because of the limited computing capacity of computers at that time (the computation of a single view takes several minutes) it does not find a broad acceptance. Today (2016) such program is part of any Computer or Magnetic Resonance Tomograph.
1990 Prof. Lierse is excited about VOXEL-MAN
Because of the low acceptance in clinical medicine the researchers change their focus to computer based 3D models for education and training. In cooperation with the neuroanatomist Prof. Werner Lierse (1928-1993) novel method of combination 3D models with anatomical and radiological knowledge is developed. For the project Prof. Lierse spends more time in the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science in Medicine than in his own institute.
1991 Linking Models with Descriptive Knowledge
The necessity of linking descriptions to the 3D models leads involuntarily to dealing with methods of knowledge representation. Based on the method of "semantic networks" a concept is developed that allows such linking of knowledge about organs to the image data. As a result a user can navigate in the descriptions and ask for the anatomical correlate to be marked or he can vice versa point on an area in the 3D model for inquiring information e. g. about name and relation to other organs, function, or supplying blood vessel.
Based on this concept the first interactive 3D atlas of the human brain and skull is created. Unexpectedly Prof. Lierse passes away in 1993 and cannot experience its final version. It is completed under the supervision of Prof. Udo Schumacher (Institute of Anatomy and Experimental Morphology). The atlas consists of a 3D computer model of the human brain containing 250 anatomical objects. At the computer screen they can be viewed from any direction, dissected, disassembled, interrogated or shown in their radiological manifestation. Annotations can be chosen in five different languages (German, English, French, Japanese and Chinese). Commentary of the American Journal of Neuroradiology* about visitors experiencing the atlas at the RSNA Congress in Chicago 1991: ".................they were looking into the future." In 1995 it is published by Springer.
* Am. J. Neuroradiology 14, 3 (1993), 560
It turned out that the novel images are an attraction beyond medicine. So the animations of the VOXEL-MAN Project are in the center of the exhibition "Le Corps Virtuel" at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The newspaper "Le Monde"*: "..........fort spectaculaire (definitely spectacular)".
* Le Monde, 7. April 1994
1998 The First Realistic Interactive 3D Atlas of the Inner Organs
In 1995 the U.S. National Library of Medicine publishes the so called Visible Human data set. It consists of 1878 photographic cross-sectional images of a corpse with the corresponding CT and MRI images. These data lend themselves for the creation of VOXEL-MAN 3D models. From these data the VOXEL-MAN team develops an interactive 3D atlas of the inner organs with unprecedented spatial resolution and fidelity. The team is supported by the expertise of Prof. Udo Schumacher (Institute of Anatomy and Experimental Morphology) and a committed crew of students helping with the elaborate work of segmentation (the assignment of voxels to organs). With the functionality known from the brain atlas 650 anatomical constituents can be examined. The graphic quality of the atlas published at Springer in 2001 is still (2016) unsurpassed.
2002 A First 3D Acupuncture Atlas
2003 The first Prototype of a Virtual Reality ENT Surgery Simulator
Gradually more surgeons find preoperative computer based 3D visualization useful, because it shows the anatomy as they find it at the intervention. The VOXEL-MAN team develops techniques for arbitrary cutting in 3D models. Using these, the simulation of risky interventions, such as those in the middle ear becomes possible. Via stereoscopic viewing and haptic force feedback device the surgeon gets the impression of acting on a real patient. Together with Dr. Rudolf Leuwer (ENT Department) the first virtual reality simulator prototype worldwide for middle ear surgery is presented.
2005 The first Commercial Simulator for ENT Surgery
The company Spiggle und Theis Medizintechnik brings the system to market. Soon the system is sold to institutions worldwide for training in middle ear surgery. The system is continuously refined by the VOXEL-MAN group and from 2010 on marketed by the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf.
At last 1989-1997: "The Virtual Mummy" "
In 1989, at the occasion of a public lecture of Dr. Renate Germer (at that time with the Department of Egyptology of the University of Hamburg) the idea of transferring 3D modelling to mummy research was born. A 3D model of the head of a 30 year old woman passed away 2300 years ago was created from computer tomograms. It offered the possibility of a detailed investigation. As a "spin-off" from medical research a long term cooperation involving further mummies was established.1991/92 Reconstructions were shown at the exhibition Mumie + Computer at the Kestner Museum in Hannover.
In 1997 the same data were reprocessed for the exhibition Mummies: Life after death in Ancient Egypt (Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg) and posted on the web as The Virtual Mummy. Around the year 2000 it was the most visited web page of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. Even the magazine Science* found it worth mentioning under the title "Cool images".
* Science 285, 491, 1999.
|Members of the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science in Medicine
Karl Heinz Höhne
|Graduate students in computer science/ Doctoral students in medicine|
|Collaborators at the Medical Center and the University of Hamburg|
Jürgen V. Wening
|Denis Friboulet, INSA, Lyon
Shigeru Eiho, University of Kyoto
Yoshihiro Kuroda, Osaka University
Yoshitaka Masutani, Hiroshima City University
Akinobu Shimizu, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology
Jun-ichiro Toriwaki, Nagoya University
Tetsuya Yamagishi, Tokyo University
Yoshihiro Kuroda (Kyoto Univ.), Tetsuya Yamagishi (Tokyo Univ.) und Lei Zheng (Shanghai Jiao Tong Univ.) 2002
Ralph Bernstein, IBM Palo Alto Scientific Center
Fritz R. P. Boecker, Digital Equipment GmbH
|Special thanks go to the VOXEL-MAN group, particularly to Bastian Dittmar for continuously helping with the presentations for the Medical-Historic Museum.|
|VOXEL-MAN images as covers of journals and books|