AR prototype could let doctors see patients' insides on the outside

By Laura Lovett

A new augment reality technology will let doctors go a step beyond a normal exam and take a look under their patients’ skin. Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a device called ProjectDR, which lets doctors display CT scans and MRI data directly onto a patient’s body. The images will also move when the patient moves. 

“It can be quite difficult to know the internal structure under the skin and in many cases the [provider] has to palpate and poke and proud around,” Ian Watts, lead author of the abstract and graduate student at the University of Alberta, told MobiHealthNews. “This is a way to provide more context around the medical data.”

ProjectDR uses infrared cameras and markers on the patient’s body and a projector to display the images. Watt started by using a projector to put the scans against patients. But that left the images static. So Watt decided to create software that would synchronize the patient’s movements with the scans.

But the technology isn’t just for the exam room, said Watt. One day it could be used in many areas including surgery. 

"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," said Boulanger. 

At Cambridge Consultants Innovation Day in November, Microsoft displayed a system using its HoloLens VR headset to uses AR to see through layers of the patients body. The device lets surgeons see through skin, organs, and ribcages. 

The authors of the abstract discuss HoloLens in the introduction and note that the device requires a separate head mounted display for each person involved in the screening, as well as the need for sterilization. Their team, by contrast, is looking to developing an AR system that is not tethered. 

“This projected AR system provides a common perspective that is not tied to an individual point-of-view, which can be used by others such as a surgical team,” authors of the study wrote. “The system is easily extendable to other display technology and has many potential applications including education, surgical planning, laparoscopic surgery, and entertainment.”

The team is now looking to continue the product to the next stage. 

"We are also doing pilot studies to test the usability of the system for teaching chiropractic and physical therapy procedures,” Greg Kawchuk, a co-supervisor on the project from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, said in a statement.