ProjectDR sees medical scan data projected on to patients' bodies

Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed an augmented reality system dubbed ProjectDR that projects CT scans and MRI data on to a patient’s body.

The images move with the patient’s body and show front and back views as the patient turns. Ian Watts, a computing science graduate student and the developer of ProjectDR, said: “We wanted to create a system that would show clinicians a patient’s internal anatomy within the context of the body.”

Watts and his colleagues have used a motion tracking system using infrared cameras and markers on the patient’s body, combined with a projector to display the images. Software written by Watts makes sure the components work together in order to display the scans in the appropriate place even as the patient moves. 

Michael Fiest, a graduate student working with Watts, said: “There are lots of applications for this technology, including in teaching, physiotherapy, laparoscopic surgery and even surgical planning.” 

ProjectDR can also show segmented images—for example, only the lungs or only the blood vessels—depending on what a clinician is interested in seeing.

Watts is currently refining ProjectDR to improve the system’s automatic calibration and to add components such as depth sensors. 

Pierre Boulanger, professor in the Department of Computing Science, said: “Soon, we’ll deploy ProjectDR in an operating room in a surgical simulation laboratory to test the pros and cons in real-life surgical applications.

"We are also doing pilot studies to test the usability of the system for teaching chiropractic and physical therapy procedures,” added Greg Kawchuk, a co-supervisor on the project from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. The pilot studies should pave the way for real surgical pilot studies.

Watts is co-supervised by Boulanger, Cisco Chair in Healthcare Solutions and professor in the Faculty of Science, and by Kawchuk, professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.