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The human brain and skull are three dimensional (3D) anatomical structures with complex surfaces. However, medical images are often two dimensional (2D) and provide incomplete visualization of structural morphology. To overcome this loss in dimension, we developed and validated a freely available, semi-automated pathway to build 3D virtual reality (VR) and hand-held, stereolithograph models. To evaluate whether surface visualization in 3D was more informative than in 2D, undergraduate students (nā€Š=ā€Š50) used the Gillespie scale to rate 3D VR and physical models of both a living patient-volunteer's brain and the skull of Phineas Gage, a historically famous railroad worker whose misfortune with a projectile tamping iron provided the first evidence of a structure-function relationship in brain. Using our processing pathway, we successfully fabricated human brain and skull replicas and validated that the stereolithograph model preserved the scale of the VR model. Based on the Gillespie ratings, students indicated that the biological utility and quality of visual information at the surface of VR and stereolithograph models were greater than the 2D images from which they were derived. The method we developed is useful to create VR and stereolithograph 3D models from medical images and can be used to model hard or soft tissue in living or preserved specimens. Compared to 2D images, VR and stereolithograph models provide an extra dimension that enhances both the quality of visual information and utility of surface visualization in neuroscience and medicine.
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