October 5, 2007 Computer technology is always working to further capabilities within the realm of modern medicine. One of the latest developments has come from IBM researchers in Zurich, Switzerland who announced details of prototype visualization software that allows doctors to view medical data of patients using a 3D avatar of the human body.

The Anatomic and Symbolic Mapper Engine (ASME) provides an interactive 3D model of the human body that displays health information at a glance so doctors can visualize the medical histories of their patients and thereby improve care. With a click of the mouse a doctor can view a particular part of the avatar "body" to trigger a search of medical records and retrieve relevant information.

ASME works using advanced machine learning and state-of-the-art 3D modeling techniques. It integrates heterogeneous data sources and complex text-based information and links that data to the anatomical model in an easy-to-navigate format. The software also uses SNOMED, the systemized nomenclature of medicine that encompasses approximately 300,000 medical terms. SNOMED helps to create a bridge between graphical concepts and text documents.

ASME even gives doctors a view under the skin to see the cardiovascular or muscular system. Each patient’s records are organized visually so when a patient complains of knee pain, for example, the doctor can click on the avatar knee and see all relevant records including text entries, lab results and medical images such as radiographs or MRIs. The system can localize the area of interest for the doctor as much as one particular part of the knee rather than the whole knee itself. Search parameters for information include time and other medical history factors.

IBM Researcher Andre Elisseeff, who leads the healthcare projects at IBM's Zurich lab, likened it to Google Earth. "In hopes of speeding the move toward electronic healthcare records, we've tried to make information easily accessible for healthcare providers by combining medical data with visual representation, making it as simple as possible to interact with data that can improve patient care," Elisseeff said.

Currently medical practitioners access this information either by conventional paper records or, for the more modern medico, using a computerized, text-based system. These methods create challenges in diagnosing diseases and accessing a comprehensive history. ASME hopes to address these issues and fill a gap whilst the medical profession is working towards fully functional electronic health records (eHR) systems which would allow information sharing between hospitals, clinics, GPs, etc. The researchers also hope to incorporate speech technology into the system as an enhanced functionality.

ASME appears to be a truly revolutionary concept. 3D imaging has been used within the medical field with systems like MedView from ViewTec - which includes 3D visualization software options for medical imaging - but not in exactly this way. Zygote Media Group also recently released details of hyper-accurate 3D models of the human body. They have primarily been used in a media and entertainment context but have also assisted medical purposes for product development.