C.R. Gazette: Iowa City Company's 3-D Anatomy Software Wows Global Audience

Saturday, April 17, 2010

By George C. Ford
The Gazette

IOWA CITY - For customers of an Iowa City company, 3-D images represent more than just a new wave of moviemaking. Cyber-Anatomy Inc., 1910 S. Gilbert St., developed and markets Cyber-Anatomy Med VR, a three-dimensional, virtual-reality model of the human body. More than 13,000 body parts are displayed in full-color, medically ac­curate detail. Karim Abduel-Malek, the founder of Cyber-Anatomy, said Cyber-Anatomy Med VR was developed to meet the needs of medical students in countries where the use of cadavers is difficult because of lack of access or religious reasons.

'Seven years ago, I started a company called Viz-Tek, which sells virtual-reality equipment,' said Abdel-Malek, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Iowa and director of the UI Center for Computer-Aided Design.

'We received a call from the Saudi German Hospitals in Saudi Arabia about a 3-D model of the spine on our Web site.

'They told us that they didn't have cadavers to teach their medical students and asked if we could create a 3-D model of the entire human body.

I told them that we could do it, if they were willing to send us a check.' Over the next several years, Abdel-Malek hired 3-D modelers and simulation engineers - many of them former UI students - to develop the software. The Saudi German Hospitals were pleased with the initial results but felt the software needed to be much more detailed for medical students.

With financial support and medical expertise recruited from Elsevier, the Amsterdam-based publisher of 150-year-old Gray's Anatomy, Abdel-Malek was able to create an anatomically correct model of the human body. 'With my background, we were able to add the 3-D virtual-reality component,' Abdel-Malek said. 'That enables us to show the spatial relationship between the bones, muscles, arteries, veins and nerves that you would find in a cadaver, and the 3-D model allows multiple students to perform the same exercise, something that would not be possible using a cadaver.' Darren Hoffmann, a lecturer in the department of anatomy and cell biology at the UI Carver College of Medicine, said Cyber-Anatomy Med VR has all the anatomical detail needed to make it a powerful reference for medical students. 'The three-dimensional presentation and mobility of each structure create an open, freely moving, virtual dissection experience that draws students in, always providing an accurate sense of the spatial relationships between anatomical structures,' Hoffman said.

Elsevier markets the 3D software and projection system in North America, and Cyber-Anatomy Inc. sells the system to cli­ents in other countries.

Students wearing special glasses use the 3-D version in a lecture setting and have a two-dimensional version on their computers.

While a computer mouse is used at the present time to 'dissect' the 3-D model of the human body, Abdel-Malek said the next step is not that far off.

'Within a few years, I believe the system will be linked to virtual-reality 'gloves' with sensors that will allow you to reach out and 'touch' a bone and allow you to feel it,' he said. 'The technology is there. It's just a matter of integrating it.' Abdel-Malek said Cyber Science 3D, a companion product to Cyber-Anatomy Med VR, is a 3-D virtual anatomy system used by high school students. The system, including software license, computer, projector and about 50 pairs of 3-D glasses, runs about $15,000.

'School districts save money because they make a single purchase of software and projector, rather than buying frogs and other specimens every year,' he said.

'Today's students are seeing this stuff in movie theaters with films like 'Avatar.' Many of today's video games incorporate the technology, and students will expect it in the classroom.' Cyber-Anatomy Inc. employs nine, but Abdel-Malek expects employment to top 100 by the end of 2011 as product demand grows. He said partner­ships with large firms like Elsevier should allow the company to expand.