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Rewriting Life

The Human Body, Searchable in 3-D

A new tool lets people see the inside of the body up close and in great detail.

The first online 3-D interactive search tool of the human body was released today.  It allows a user to view and navigate the human anatomy, male or female, down to the finest detail—from the muscles and deep muscles to the nerves, arteries, vessels, and bones. This new tool, called BodyMaps, was developed by Healthline Networks, a company that provides medical information to consumers online, and GE Healthyimagination, a Web-based platform that shares and promotes projects that focus on consumer health, such as apps or healthy how-to videos.

Anatomical views: BodyMaps, a 3-D visual search tool, allows a user to search and navigate the human body. Shown at left is the left ventricle of the heart. Pop-up text gives definitions, descriptions, and common conditions. At right, the “deep muscle” view of the knee shows layers of the body from the skin and muscles down to the arteries, vessels, and bones.

BodyMaps is a consumer tool developed to educate the user on health conditions or medical ailments. At the center of the BodyMaps page is a 3-D image of the body; at left is textual information about the body section being shown.  As a user mouses over the text, the section of the body in the image is highlighted, and vice versa if a user mouses over the image. At the bottom is a scrubber that lets the user rotate the body 360 degrees. The page also features videos, tips on staying healthy, information on symptoms and conditions, and a definition of the section in view.

The user can select a body region to explore by clicking the text or image, or by using the search tool. Selecting shoulders generated a crisp, high-definition 3-D image of the shoulder section, starting at the skin level, with the option to click through to see the muscles, nerves and vessels, and bone. Choosing the deltoid muscle, a definition popped up and the remaining muscles were shaded out. An option to read more provided a lengthy definition and description of the muscle, including common injuries and their causes and symptoms.

There is also an anatomy list for each body section  the user chooses to view—the heart even has a cross-section view and a diagram of blood flow while the knee shows each layer of connective tissues.

BodyMaps is a flash application and can be viewed in any browser; it does not require the user to download any software or special programs to run. “This is not a science experiment,” says West Shell, chairman and CEO of Healthline Networks. “We have built this as a search product for consumer education,” he says. 

Google is working on a similar project called Google Body, which is part of Google Labs. Unlike BodyMaps, it requires a Web 3-D standard called WebGL and can only be used in a Chrome browser. Google Body also lacks the level of detail both in its imagery and information that is available in BodyMaps.

BodyMaps was built using Healthline’s taxonomy, a database of health and medical information the company spent 10 years building. It relates the different attributes and facets of a disease or condition to relevant symptoms and treatments, types of doctors, and even insurance billing codes. When a user conducts a search, all the relevant information is displayed.  To create the 3-D graphics, Healthline and GE Healthyimagination used over 25 medical illustrators to first make the drawings. They then partnered with Visible Productions to do the 3-D modeling and applied the existing taxonomy and search and navigation technology to the models.

Shell says the most viewed information on Healthline.com is visual data such as images, videos, and animations. “We are enhancing the visual learning experience by making the 3-D body the platform for navigation,” he says.

The next phase of development for the new 3-D tool is to make it available on mobile devices and tablets.  To do so, Healthline is building the application in HTML 5, a programming language that is supported by most devices. Shell  expects BodyMaps to be on mobile platforms in the next six months to a year.

The system, while the first of its kind, still needs some work. Some queries, like “large intestine,” produce no results, and certain “read more” sections, such as in the knee region, do not have any additional information.  Also, choosing to “read more” about the muscle “biceps brachii,” displayed in the shoulder region, makes the user go back to the arm section.

The company expects to introduce additional capabilities by June that will let users explore in 3-D graphics the progression of a disease, how a drug works in the body, a medical procedure, or even an injury. At least 20 different scenarios will be launched initially, and new ones will continue to be released. Further planned improvements will let users upload his or her medical imagery into the system and compare it with the information in BodyMaps.

Shell says Healthline is conducting a pilot study with GE, integrating the imagery from the company’s electronic medical record system with BodyMaps. This application will not be available to users “for a while,” but should be implemented widely across GE for testing later this year, he says.

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