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Virtual Reality Harnessed to View Inside Blood Vessels

Pelvic region angiogram

Pelvic region conventional angiogram showing a catheter (Milorad Dimic, Wikimedia Commons)

3 April 2019. A medical team demonstrated the feasibility of virtual reality to visualize and guide a catheter inside blood vessels through a three-dimensional human model. Researchers from University of Washington in Seattle reported results of their feasibility study on 26 March at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s or SIR’s annual scientific meeting in Austin, Texas.

The team led by UW radiology professor Wayne Monsky is seeking more efficient ways for radiologists to visualize and inspect a patient’s blood vessels using a catheter, in a process called angiography for imaging veins and arteries. Catheter angiography is guided by X-rays to diagnose blood vessel disorders, such as aneurysms, and plaque build-ups that result in atherosclerosis. The technique usually yields clear, detailed 2-D black-and-white images.

But Monsky, with UW colleagues Stephen Seslar and Ryan James, believe the process can be accelerated with holographic virtual reality, which also reduces exposure by the patient to radiation. The team created a 3-D printed model of 3 human abdominal and pelvic blood vessels from computed tomography or CT scans, with which they tested an off-the-shelf angiographic catheter, outfitted with electronic sensors. Images from the catheter were then displayed in a virtual reality headset. Software for guiding the catheter connected to virtual reality hardware is made by Pyrus Medical, a start-up company founded by the researchers.

The researchers tested their virtual-reality guided catheter angiography through the model versus conventional X-ray techniques in the 3 blood vessels, starting at the femoral artery. After 18 simulated examinations, the process guided by virtual reality completed examinations of the 3 model blood vessels, taking between 18 and 23 seconds on average. Conventional X-ray guided angiography examinations through the model took on average between 66 and 74 seconds, with the differences in time large enough for statistical reliability. The amount of time needed for these examinations in actual clinical practice, say the researchers, ranges from 92 to 188 seconds.

A survey of radiologists who tried the virtual reality system shows the practitioners believe the new technique improves the treatments’ ease, precision, and efficiency. The researchers conclude the addition of virtual reality speeds up the process and reduces the patient’s radiation exposure with this type of interventional radiology or IR. “Virtual reality will change how we look at a patient’s anatomy during an IR treatment,” says Monsky in an SIR statement. “This technology will allow physicians to travel inside a patient’s body instead of relying solely on 2-D, black and white images.”

Pyrus Medical is a 2 year-old company that resides in UW’s CoMotion Labs, a incubator hosting start-ups in engineering, life sciences, medical devices, clean technologies, and augmented and virtual reality. Co-author Ryan James is the company’s chief technology officer, while Stephen Seslar is Pyrus’s chief medical officer.

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