How Video Game Tech May Help Improve Medical Imaging

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 22 2012 9:30 AM

How Video Game Tech May Help Improve Medical Imaging

The Playstation 3 and other gaming consoles may help create better medical imaging
The Playstation 3 and other gaming consoles may help create better medical imaging.

Photo by YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

Computer scientist Larry Smarr is using videogame technology to make the next big leap in medical imaging, with his own body—specifically, his colon—as the prototype template.

The former astrophysicist has created a virtual reality experience featuring a detailed, and interactive, digital model his own digestive system, writes Mark Bowden in the new issue of the Atlantic.

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In a video interview, Smarr , a professor at the University of California-San Diego, predicts that revolutionary innovation in medical imaging is on the horizon, thanks to advancing sensors and computer technology, ”which came of things like the gaming industry.”

Smarr’s prototype consists of a “cave” composed of massive HD screens placed in a square with additional screens above angled toward the floor. These displays are linked to 18 gaming PCs, creating a graphics-processing goliath.  

Bowden tried the system out, with a sensor placed on his forehead to help the computer track his eyes.  “I felt as if I could reach out and touch the wrinkled contours of his intestines and arteries,” he writes.

Smarr believes this technology will change the nature of medical diagnosis by eventually creating a fully interactive 3D model of a person’s internal components. This would allow us easily inspect specific parts of organs.

This isn’t the first time the medical field has taken advantage of gaming’s horsepower. Since 2007, innovations in graphical hardware have also been used to speed up scientific computations. Graphics processing units, or GPUs, are built from that start to handle hundreds of arithmetic functions and complex processes, making them ideal for the advanced calculations of both fields.

That same year, IBM and Mayo Clinic began using the Cell Broadband Engine, the multi-core microprocessor powering Sony’s Playstation 3, in their medical imaging software, reported MedGadget.

Stanford University’s Folding@Home service allows gamers to the Play Station 3’s idle processing power toward a digital computing system, aiding the research or of protein folding and disease. In 2007, it became the first computing system of any kind to generate a computing power above 1 petraflop, primarily due to the added processing boost of the PS3.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

David Sydiongco is a Future Tense intern.

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