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3-D System For Brain Surgery

A new computer system, developed by University of Louisville researchers, helps remove guesswork from brain surgery and should be functioning next month.

Surgeons can see 3-D images of details of the brain, making operations more precise and safer.

Currently, doctors who remove brain tumors must operate, close the incision, then take a magnetic resonance image, or MRI, to see if the tumor was removed.

With the new technology, surgeons can see immediately whether they have removed the cancer before sealing the incision. It will also allow surgeons to detect other problems, such as blood clots.

"It's very impressive," said Dr. Christopher Shields, a neurosurgeon and chairman of the U of L medical school's neurosurgery department.

He said the 3-D system will revolutionize surgery in Louisville.

"What we're doing here is taking high-performance computing to the next level," he said.

The 3-D project is part of a larger project at Norton Hospital, which in September acquired a 10-ton MRI machine, one of four in the United States.

Since 1994, U of L associate professor Aly Farag and his students have been working on the project, which Norton helped finance.

The project is also part of the university's Computer Vision and Image Processing laboratory, or CVIP, which was given a $1 million super-computer last month by Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.

The computer's processor is up to 10 times as fast as the lab's current computer, so the pictures of the brain will be fresh, rather than delayed by a few seconds-- critical in delicate brain surgery.

Farag, lab director, and Chuck Sites, system administrator for the lab, plan to have the supercomputer operating next month, about the time the MRI machine goes online at Norton.

The machine at Norton will send images of the brain via fiber-optic cable to the CVIP lab at U of L's Belknap Campus, where 3-D pictures will be created, then zipped back to Norton with virtually no delay.

Dr. Thomas Moriarty, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Kosair Children's Hospital, said the technology will also be used to plan surgery before an incision is made.

"We can have a much better sense of what we're going to encounter before we get there," Moriarty said.

A similar 3-D system was developed by Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital. The hospital, which also has a 10-ton imaging machine made by General Electric, has developed its own 3-D surgical program, known as 3-D Slicer.

Rob Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Harvard hospital, said the slicer was created with GE and Sun Microsystems. It has been successful in about 20 operations.

The U of L system projects images of the brain onto a monitor the size of a large-screen television. Surgeons wear special glasses, similar to those worn at 3-D movies.

Besides the Norton money, the CVIP lab has won grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Defense Department and oher agencies. It was founded in 1994.