When people think of virtual and augmented reality and other immersive multimedia technologies, many focus on the entertainment aspect, but these tools have become an asset in medical care.
In May, the University of Maryland School of Medicine announced a partnership with the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Michigan to create the Center for Medical Innovations in Extended Reality (MIXR). Created with $5 million from the National Science Foundation’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers program, the center aims to accelerate the development of these technologies for use in clinical trials and eventually in medical care more broadly.
Companies such as Microsoft, Meta, Google and others will also provide funding and expertise to the team to develop, test and certify these technologies for use in the medical field.
“Virtual reality has many uses in a healthcare environment,” said Amitabh Varshney, dean and professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences and principal investigator of the MIXR site. “For training, we’ve already done studies that show people can retain information better (nearly 9% better) than if they were viewing the same information on a 2D desktop screen.”
Staff have also developed virtual reality training prototypes for specialized surgical techniques like an emergency fasciotomy where fascia is cut to relieve tension or pressure to treat the resulting loss of circulation to an area of tissue. or muscle.
For augmented reality, the team developed a point-of-care ultrasound prototype that displays information directly on the patient so the doctor doesn’t have to keep staring at a monitor.
“These examples are just the beginning,” Varshney notes. “With the additional momentum and synergy our new center will bring — including working with federal regulatory experts to bring new devices and technologies to clinical settings more quickly — we foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when helmets immersive devices will be just as commonplace in hospitals as a stethoscope.
Officials note that MIXR is needed due to the rapid movement of the private sector to advance new immersive technologies used for games, entertainment, education and training. This has trickled down to scientists and physicians who use these same visualization tools in a clinical setting or for advanced medical training.
“We believe our new center will serve as a focal point for industry to collaborate – at the highest level – with academics and healthcare professionals to build, test and certify new devices that can greatly improve patient care and medical training,” Varshney said.
In 2017, Varshney and Dr. Sarah Murthi initiated initial work with the Maryland Blended Reality Center (MBRC).
“It has been extremely exciting and rewarding to work with Dr. Sarah Murthi and her colleagues in Baltimore,” he said. “They represent the best in emergency medicine. Now, with increased participation from technology leaders like Google, Microsoft and others, we believe we have developed a critical mass to move our ideas forward quickly and efficiently. The common theme of using technology to improve patient outcomes has driven our efforts from the start. This is particularly satisfying for me as a computer scientist.
MBRC will continue to work on other immersive projects not directly related to medicine and healthcare, including implicit bias training and the use of immersive environments to train foreign language professionals in a very high level. They have also collaborated with artists and performers to bring new ideas to classical music and opera on stage.
“So while some of MIXR’s new activities may overlap with our work at MBRC, we view them as separate, yet complementary entities,” Varshney said.
Some of the new activities explored by MIXR staff have not yet been widely used in a medical setting. Murthi works to help patients cope with physical and emotional trauma through otherworldly immersion, with a focus on quadriplegic patients hospitalized with acute spinal cord injury. Another collaborator, Dr. Luana Colloca, is a medical scientist who uses immersive technologies to reduce the need for addictive opioid painkillers.
Varshney and his colleagues at UM are finalizing a HoloCamera studio featuring more than 300 immersive cameras fused together to create 3D visualization technology images to help train healthcare providers performing difficult medical procedures.
“We are in the final stages of addressing the technical challenges that arose when merging 300 immersive cameras,” he said. “The system works, but we need it to work seamlessly for what we have in mind: high-end training for emergency medical procedures. We plan to work with our partners in Baltimore on user studies training scenarios within the next six months.
Collaborators have planned a three-day kickoff in College Park in October to bring together all of MIXR’s partners, including scientists, physicians, private technology companies and federal regulatory experts. The event is designed to reflect on their agenda for the immediate future and the next five years. “We’re certainly excited for what’s yet to come,” Varshney said.