Feeling Sick? Consult a Crystal Ball

This new imaging device shows promise in improving medical treatment.

WHAT if you were sick and your doctor told you she could gaze into a crystal ball and show you what ails you? You might be skeptical or even begin to question your choice in physicians, but the truth is there is such a "crystal ball"--except it uses technology, not magic, and it's actually made of glass.

Dr. James Chu, professor and director of medical physics for the department of radiation oncology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, has been using such a device for more than a year in the treatment of cancer patients. The Perspecta® Spatial 3D System from Actuality Systems Inc. creates a floating, hologram-like image from any information you send it, even data from CT scans. Unlike similar imaging devices, it doesn't require special viewing goggles. Instead, the device is an enclosed glass sphere mounted onto a black base. The sphere fills with fog as a rapidly rotating laser spins a multi-color image that can be viewed 360 degrees horizontally and 270 degrees vertically.

"Essentially, we load up all of the patient's information on this 3-D system and then have the patient sit down with us to look at where the tumor is, look at where the normal tissues are, and look at how the radiation dose is covering the tumor and not covering the normal tissue," Chu said. "One patient liked it so much, the next day he brought his wife and kids over to see it."

Chu said the ability to better inform patients on their condition sets their minds at ease and makes them more cooperative, resulting in better treatment. For example, one patient being treated for head and neck cancer couldn't see the harm of a little movement during radiation therapy despite Chu's warnings. The patient argued that sitting still for so long caused his neck to be sore.

"We tried to explain to the patient that when we deliver treatment, it's important for them to hold still because you want to stay away from the salivary gland," he said. "We were able to show him how close the salivary gland is to the tumor, how close the high radiation dose line is from the salivary gland, and how big of an effect would a two-millimeter movement have."

Important Gains, However You Slice It
Usually, when patients receive a CT scan, doctors must individually evaluate hundreds of two-dimensional image slices, often going back and forth through the data for several days in order to get a clear picture of the patient's condition.

"It takes quite a while to go through the slices and also when you go through those slices, by the time you get to the last slice, you may not remember what you saw at the beginning," Chu said. "How to integrate that information in your head is now not that trivial. This particular device allows you to see the entire distribution in 3-D, in just one view, so it is much more efficient and much more correct in 3-D visualization."

Chu feels the device has proven very useful, but it still hasn't reached its full potential. He has consulted with Actuality to develop additional tools necessary to expand its capabilities. One example he gave was the need for a 3-D ruler to measure areas of radiation treatment. "For example, on this particular 3-D display you find out that the radiation dose is not covering the tumor, and you need to know how much of the tumor is not being covered," he said. "So you need to have a way to go in there to measure the 3-D distance between the radiation high dose surface and the edge of the tumor. And once you know the distance, you'll be able to change your treatment plan to provide better coverage."

Currently, the device takes a few moments to load up an image, making it impossible to use it in real-time treatment applications, Chu said. However, the company is addressing this problem in newer models, he said, and thinks someday the necessary processing speed and software will be available to use the device to guide treatment.

"If you are treating a lung tumor, the tumor does not sit still," Chu said. "The tumor moves with every breath the patient takes, so we're trying to shoot a moving target. But how does the target move during treatment? It's very important for us to know."

Other Applications
The device is also being used as a tool in the oil and gas exploration industry, in geology, and even by the military. But as advances are made to the device, Chu said, he sees it finding an ever-expanding role in the medical field. "I've shown it to cardiologists and neurosurgeons, and they're all excited about it," he said. "In the future, I wouldn't be surprised if this kind of device will find some applications in the operating room, as well."

This column appeared in the February 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the February 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Download Center

  • Safety Metrics Guide

    Is your company leveraging its safety data and analytics to maintain a safe workplace? With so much data available, where do you start? This downloadable guide will give you insight on helpful key performance indicators (KPIs) you should track for your safety program.

  • Job Hazard Analysis Guide

    This guide includes details on how to conduct a thorough Job Hazard Analysis, and it's based directly on an OSHA publication for conducting JHAs. Learn how to identify potential hazards associated with each task of a job and set controls to mitigate hazard risks.

  • A Guide to Practicing “New Safety”

    Learn from safety professionals from around the world as they share their perspectives on various “new views” of safety, including Safety Differently, Safety-II, No Safety, Human and Organizational Performance (HOP), Resilience Engineering, and more in this helpful guide.

  • Lone Worker Safety Guide

    As organizations digitalize and remote operations become more commonplace, the number of lone workers is on the rise. These employees are at increased risk for unaddressed workplace accidents or emergencies. This guide was created to help employers better understand common lone worker risks and solutions for lone worker risk mitigation and incident prevention.

  • EHS Software Buyer's Guide

    Learn the keys to staying organized, staying sharp, and staying one step ahead on all things safety. This buyer’s guide is designed for you to use in your search for the safety management solution that best suits your company’s needs.

  • Vector Solutions

Featured Whitepaper

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - May 2022

    May 2022

    Featuring:

    • WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY
      How Wearable Technology is Transforming Safety and the Industrial Workplace
    • TRAINING: CONFINED SPACES
      Five Tips to Improve Safety in Confined Spaces
    • INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE
      Monitor for Asbestos to Help Save Lives
    • PPE: FALL PROTECTION
      Fall Protection Can Be Surprising
    View This Issue