A press conference to demonstrate the application of several new
technologies will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon, Monday, October 7, 1996 at the Natcher
Auditorium, National Institutes of Health, 8600 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland.
In 1993, a Colorado team of researchers funded by the NLM, an arm of the National Institutes of
Health, sliced thousands of razor-thin tissue cross-sections from two cadavers--a 39-year-old
convicted murderer who was executed by lethal injection in Texas and a 59-year-old Maryland
woman each of whom willed their bodies to science. Each view was digitally photographed and
stored creating data that can be converted into full-color, three-dimensional images. These
extraordinary images allow users to take a virtual tour of the body.
In November, 1994 the "Visible Human Project" data was made available to the public on the
Internet with just one requirement: Users, who sign a licensing agreement, are required to keep
NLM informed of how the information is being used. To date, over 500 licensing agreements have
This first-of-its kind conference will demonstrate some of the remarkable future uses of the Visible
Human database by licensees. Among the medical uses presented will be:
Researchers at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, will demonstrate how they use the "Visible Human" database to create a virtual colonoscopy simulator that could eliminate the need for the costly, uncomfortable, invasive
procedure coupled with its complications, that currently screens for colon cancer. Instead, patients
would need only a noninvasive computer- assisted tomography (CAT) or magnetic-resonance
imaging (MRI) scan to be tested. This quick and inexpensive procedure will make it feasible to
regularly screen patients for colon cancer.
Researchers at NASA Ames Research Center in California will
demonstrate how the Visible Human data will assist surgeons in visualizing in advance the results of
plastic or reconstructive surgery by permitting simulation of the procedure. If the outcome of the
virtual surgery is not acceptable to the surgeon, the virtual process can be repeated until perfect,
without touching the patient. This method, currently under development, will be applicable to other
medical fields. It is anticipated to find widespread use to reduce the amount of time required to
reach surgical proficiency, and to accomplish this by computer simulation rather than in the more
expensive arena of the surgery suite. In the specialty of craniofacial surgery, for example, it may
take 20 years or more to train a surgeon. If this period is reduced by just one-half through surgical
simulation, ten years will be added to the independent productivity of the surgeon.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota will
show how the Visible Human datasets coupled with the development of computer capability to
rapidly render high resolution images in 3-D have made it possible for surgeons to rehearse and
plan for prostate surgery in advance of the actual operation. With this new technology, surgeons will
now have an opportunity to preview a specific patient's critical anatomic territory and plan for the
medical procedure in advance of surgery.
Researchers from Colorado will demonstrate how residents and post-graduate
fellows simulate surgery with an electronic scalpel and spinal taps with a needle simulator. They can
fine tune their manual dexterity on a computer screen before taking on actual patients. In Bethesda,
Maryland a technology has been developed to train physicians to perform minimally invasive
medical procedures, like angioplasty, and handle complications before they ever practice on a
One of the most promising outcomes of the Visible Human database is its ability to allow for repeated dissection. While
anatomical dissection normally destroys the specimen, the Visible Human allows for a "reversible"
dissection. Researchers from the University of Maryland and Ames, Iowa will describe how they
confirmed their recent and widely reported discovery of a new facial muscle using the Visible
Human data set.
Dr. Michael Ackerman, NLM's Assistant Director for High Performance Computing and
Communications and Head of the Virtual Human Project said, "The Visible Human Project is taking
medical education out of the dark ages by allowing physicians to practice or simulate a surgical
procedure in a virtual environment where mistakes do not adversely affect patients--just as flight
simulators have revolutionized airline safety."
Press packets will be available in advance of the October 7 press event.
Contact Bob Mehnert or Kathy Gardner at (301)496-6308 for packets or