Essential viewing

Barco, a medical imaging company headquartered in Belgium, has received a £1m grant from Scottish Enterprise to help develop a new visualisation product at its Edinburgh R&D site.

Barco, a medical imaging company headquartered in Belgium, has received a £1m grant from Scottish Enterprise to help develop a new visualisation product at its Edinburgh R&D site.

As part of the company’s work on the analysis of heart disease and cancer, Barco has developed software called Advanced Visualisation Thin (AVT). This uses medical images obtained from CT, MRI and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanners to produce 3D images that radiologists can read from any laptop or desktop computer with a standard network connection or two to four Mbps broadband service.

‘The software allows radiologists, cardiologists or oncologists to view these images in 3D as they come off the scanner, take measurements and, importantly, generate reports for referring physicians or within their own community,’ said Paul Kinch, original equipment manufacturer OEM (original equipment manufacturer) channel product manager for Barco’s advanced visualisation products.

‘The key thing about the software is that it does not reside on the scanners; it is integrated with the picture archiving and communications systems (PACS). Deployed in many hospitals worldwide, these are widely used by doctors to store, recall and visualise medical images.’

When a patient has a CT, MRI or PET scan, the data is stored on a scanner workstation as a stack of 2D monochrome images. According to Barco, most scanner workstations and PACS only allow doctors to look at the images in 2D monochrome, similar to an x-ray film on a light box. However, using AVT software, doctors are said to be able to view these images in 3D.

One of the AVT software’s features for analysing heart disease is its ability to look at the heart’s arteries. Barco said the software can take the data from a CT scan stored on the PACS, automatically extract the heart from the other areas in the scan and track the arteries in the heart, and label them according to internationally recognised standards.

The software then displays the heart in a range of 2D and 3D views, from which the doctor can take readings and generate a detailed report, which includes the measurements and captured views of where the measurement was taken. The report can then be sent back to the PACS in a standard format, to be accessed later.

‘Until a few years ago, CT scanning technology would typically have been something like a 16-slice image, because over one pass of the scanner the section of the body would have been sliced up into 16 separate slices,’ said Kinch. ‘Nowadays we are looking at 256 slices — and one vendor has released a 320-slice CT. So the granularity of detail is increased, as is the volume of data, but you really need to be in 3D to make sense of that, and that is where our software helps,’ he added.

As well as coping with the increased amount of data produced by the advancing technology, the software compresses the data so it can be distributed with as little burden as possible being placed on healthcare organisations’ IT systems.

‘The software is smart enough to know which part of the data needs to be compressed and the physician is never reading or being asked to make a diagnosis from a compressed image,’ said Kinch.

‘We compress the data in a proprietary way and it is then distributed via servers to not just radiology reading rooms, but also to cardiology and oncology departments and between hospital sites. With our latest solution, we can potentially distribute 3D images globally.’

Barco’s software stores and processes all the data on a central server, based on off-the-shelf hardware, so there is no need for upgrades to be made to hospital networks and each doctor’s computer. Furthermore, the software’s close integration with the PACS means that when patient details are amended on the PACS, this is replicated on the central server.

Kinch said AVT has been proven to run successfully at two Mbps broadband, compared with other software in the market that he said is claimed to operate at four or possibly eight Mbps. The smaller bandwidth means that there are opportunities for radiologists to work from home, which would be beneficial if a CT scan needed to be read out-of-hours.

‘We have done some home working tests with some leading radiologists,’ said Kinch. ‘All the clinical collaborators we have worked with have given us the thumbs-up that this is a viable solution for home reading.’