Virtual rendering

A project that aims to develop photorealistic modelling of living brain tissue could soon provide medical students with an accurate alternative to cadaveric dissection — the use of dead bodies.


A project that aims to develop photorealistic modelling of living brain tissue could soon provide medical students with an accurate alternative to cadaveric dissection — the use of dead bodies.

Over the next four months, researchers at the universities of Bangor and Bradford will work to demonstrate the feasibility of a virtual rendering technique for medical uses. The technique is hoped to replace cadaveric-based training, which has declined in recent years because of concerns over accuracy, including the fact that corpses are degrading and changing even as students work on them.

Prof Nigel John at Bangor University said: ‘Medical students do a lot of work by cutting up cadavers, but when they look at other tissues of the cadaver, the colours have already changed. So when the students go from the cadaver lab to operating on a real person, it doesn’t look quite like what they are used to and this can cause some difficulties.’

The project, which has received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), intends to solve this by using digital imagery alongside a computer function known as BRDF (bidirectional reflectance distribution function) to define how light reflects on opaque surfaces.

John said: ‘The technique has been known for quite a while. However, this has never been done before for human tissues.

‘If this works, we would perhaps like to develop the whole model further,’ he said. ‘The technique could work with anything; on the simplest level, it could be your skin, but we’re more interested in getting into the operating theatre when they’ve got you cut open. So as well as the head, we could get images of any anatomy that’s exposed.’

The research team is hoping to work with Leeds General Infirmary in September to trial the technique on patients undergoing brain surgery. Results are expected to be available early next year.

Ellie Zolfagharifard