If you were to ask a child to imagine the future in 20 years’ time, it would likely involve a lot of robots. And flying cars.
The idea of the future as a time in which technology reigns supreme has been ingrained in our culture since the mid-20th century, when technology allowed the first man to walk on the moon.
Today, we need not look very far to see how technology is vastly changing the way we live our lives. In medical schools, students are beginning their first steps to becoming healthcare professionals with technological tools that were once unheard of (and I graduated just a decade ago). Medical students now have at their disposal incredible, realistic 3D images of the human anatomy that allow them to comprehend the complexities of the human body in ways that previously could only be achieved by spending an extended period of time with a cadaver.
In clinical practice, one way in which healthcare technology is moving forward is in medical imaging. Just as the invention of the X-ray machine was once considered a remarkable step forward, the most innovative imaging technologies today allow us to visualize the internal human body in stunning detail.
Virtual Reality in GIST
In the Journal of Healthcare Engineering, a team of Chinese researchers wrote about the advancements in CT imaging and how it is being used to diagnose gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs).
Read more about GIST etiology
The premise of the study was that multilayer CT imaging technology has undergone a boom in many parts of China. This is due to 2 factors: the first is the large-scale promotion of such technology in the country, and the second is its ability to aid in the more accurate diagnosis of GIST in a larger number of patients.
“In essence, virtual reality technology is an advanced computer user interface,” they wrote. “It provides users with various intuitive and natural real-time perception and interaction methods such as viewing, listening, and touching at the same time, so as to maximize the convenience of users’ operations, reduce the burden on users, and improve the efficiency of the entire system.”
The diagnosis of GIST is presently already heavily dependent on CT imaging, which allows the morphological and metastatic changes of gastric lymph nodes to be visualized. However, because images are subjectively perceived, some doctors who are less experienced might misdiagnose a patient based on this form of imaging alone.
To reduce the risk of this happening, Wang and colleagues have proposed the design of a lymph node detection framework that uses imaging processing methods to determine areas of interest from CT images. This detection mechanism is then able to extract images of suspicious lymph nodes and process them using artificial intelligence, helping physicians to arrive at a more accurate diagnosis of GIST based on the behavior of surrounding lymph nodes.
Virtual reality, in short, digitizes images from drawings and models to mimic the shape and attributes of the product. This digital product can then be viewed virtually for further evaluation.
“Virtual reality technology can not only simulate the appearance of products with high precision, but also build the environment for product use and simulate the process of product use,” Wang et al wrote.
Read more about GIST diagnosis
Using complex mathematical formulations and advanced imaging extraction techniques, the researchers were able to create virtual images of suspicious gastric lymph nodes. They discovered that their technology allowed for the texture of the images to be manipulated for clarity. Based on their technology, the positive prediction rate for CD117, CD34, and D0G1 in GIST were 95.83%, 79.71%, and 96.88% respectively.
This study demonstrates that enhanced imaging techniques can aid physicians in diagnosing diseases and improving quality of care.
Advanced Imaging in COVID-19
Another example of how advanced imaging has improved clinical care is its use in identifying cardiovascular complications in patients with COVID-19. In Insights into Imaging, Catapano and colleagues reported on how advanced imaging allowed physicians to discriminate between the large number of cardiac differential diagnoses.
Cardiac involvement is a common cause of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. Although respiratory symptoms are most notable, significant cardiac injury can also occur.
Catapano and colleagues wrote that advanced cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging has helped scientists to discriminate between various cardiovascular diseases, such as pericarditis, myocarditis, and myocardial infarction. The genius of CMR imaging is that it allows multiple planes to be oriented on short-axis and long-axis views. In addition, CMR imaging allows imaging slices to be made at the basal, mid, and apical planes. These multi-plane views allow physicians to visualize the heart in ways that would have been difficult without an open heart surgical exploration.
“In conclusion, . . . radiologists should be aware of the . . . rationalized utilization of advanced imaging tools which may be used to drive therapeutic approach and stratify patients’ prognosis,” Catapano et al concluded.
Indeed, the advancements made in imaging technology has allowed many of the conveniences we once imagined to belong only to the future to fall into our hands today. It is imperative that healthcare authorities continue to make advanced imaging technologies available at every healthcare facility that needs it.
Wang Z, Qu Q, Cai K, Xu T. CT image examination based on virtual reality analysis in clinical diagnosis of gastrointestinal stromal tumors. J Healthc Eng. Published online June 17, 2021. doi:10.1155/2021/9996565
Catapano F, Marchitelli L, Cundari G, et al. Role of advanced imaging in COVID-19 cardiovascular complications. Insights Imaging. Published online February 24, 2021. doi:10.1186/s13244-021-00973-z