CAVE2 - Large Scale Next Generation Virtual Environment
A team of neurosurgeons from the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, working in conjunction with researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Bioengineering and the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL), recently stepped into CAVE2 - a next-generation, large-scale, virtual environment - to solve a vexing problem that presented itself in the arteries of the brain of a real patient. The method they used could someday benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans who fall victim to brain aneurysms and strokes, the third leading cause of death in the United States.
For years bioengineering professor Andreas Linninger and UI Health neurosurgeons have painstakingly used laptop and desktop computers to evaluate patient-specific images interpreted by computer algorithms to represent a three-dimensional model of the brain and its blood flow. These full brain models pieced together arteries, veins, and micro-vessels to physiologically mirror the brains of individual patients, including a particular patient whose cerebrovascular system they were trying to accurately model. The limited image spatial-resolution of even the best-quality computers, however, left areas of the brain unable to be seen by Linninger and his colleagues. That is, until they stepped into an automatic virtual environment known as the "CAVE" - a room in which images are seamlessly displayed so as to immerse an observer in a cyber-world of three dimensional data.
"We were flabbergasted," said Linninger. "We had been looking at computer models of a particular patient's brain for several months, but within five minutes of putting the model into the CAVE2, we had connected certain arteries in a way that was inconsistent with anatomy." With that revelation, the model could be corrected.
The use of virtual reality systems like CAVE2 could change the way UI Health surgeons are trained and greatly improve patient care. Without CAVE2's ability to electronically immerse these researchers and surgeons in their data, they may have still missed this significant data point and continued to struggle with developing an accurate blood flow model.
"Today, almost all science is e-science," said Jason Leigh, director of the Electronic Visualization Laboratory. "Much of the data scientists investigate is collected, stored, and analyzed digitally. CAVE2 gives us a unique ability to take that data and represent it in a large-scale virtual environment."
CAVE2 combines the benefits of scalable-resolution display walls and virtual-reality systems to create a seamless 2-D and 3-D environment. It allows scientists to study phenomena too large, too small, too dangerous, too complex, or too distant to truly understand without the guidance of perceptual augmentation. It provides a virtual reality in which researchers can be immersed in their data to gain new understanding of the underlying problem.
Once inside CAVE2, observers can adopt a scale, relative to the visual model, that makes them feel larger than a six-story building or smaller than a molecule, for example. This ability to zoom in and out of different scales empowers them to make detailed observations and gain new insights and knowledge.
For the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, CAVE2 technology could prove invaluable, increasing understanding of blood flow in individual patients and helping to prevent and treat aneurysms and strokes, which claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.
"This is a wonderful example of the type of unique partnerships between the clinical enterprise and the University's scientific research community that are changing the ways in which we approach our understanding of disease," said Fady Charbel, professor and head of the Department of Neurosurgery. "The practical implication for our neuroscience program is that the development of these tools will greatly improve our ability to target treatments to the individual patient and deliver truly personalized therapies," Charbel added.