New Directions for Virtual Reality

Students at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science http://seas.yale.edu have developed a virtual reality platform to allow for a closer examination of 3D images from kidney biopsies. So far, conventional methods to examine the kidneys provide only superficial images of the organ. 

The students working on the project are using information from a team of researchers that developed a 3D imaging technique to allow researchers to get a better look at the tissue of patients with kidney disease. This technique is known as multiphoton microscopy is able to produce high-resolution 3D images into the kidney and provides a deep view of the organ’s internal structures.

Dr. Richard Torres, at Yale University School of Medicine reports, “It has quite a bit of advantages over current techniques. There is less technical labor, faster to process and importantly, researchers are able to visualize an entire piece of tissue”.

However, Torres and his fellow researchers wondered whether the new images would be better if there was a new technology to view the images. That is how the idea of developing a virtual reality platform came up.

Students at Yale worked with Dr. Torres as he reports, “ The new virtual reality platform is fun to use, has very smooth motion, easy to navigate, and I can go through large amounts of visual data and get perspectives that I don’t get from 2D slides.”

In another program at Penn Medicine www.pennmedicine.org, researchers are using virtual reality to treat amputees with phantom limb pain and exploring ways to use the technology to improve standard CPR training methods. Phantom limb pain occurs when the brain sends motor commands to the absent limb expecting a response.

Up to 90 percent of people who have lost a limb experience this pain. Now, Penn Medicine researchers are teaming up with the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute (MRRI) http://mrri.org to see if providing virtual legs for these patients can trick the brain into no longer sending pain signals.

Individuals with lower limb amputations wear a head-mounted display that provides a three dimensional graphical view of a virtual environment. When the user moves and rotates their head, the view changes appropriately.

Patients engage in a number of game-like tasks that require movement of both legs. Custom software and a motion tracking system then generate an image of a moving figure with two complete legs which seems to trick the brain into no longer sending pain signals and eases the pain.

Pilot research conducted so far with a small number of research subjects is promising. The system is easy to use, and appears to reduce pain. The project collaborators are currently seeking funding to enable them to test the Virtual Reality system with a larger group of research participants.

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