Stanford University: Medical ‘mixed reality’ applications take center stage at open house event

From teaching the fine art of the spinal tap to gamifying at-home physical therapy for stroke survivors, creative uses of virtual and augmented reality technology in medicine were on display at an open-house held in December at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.

Many of the projects on display were developed by students in the Fall Quarter “Mixed Reality in Medicine” course, hosted by Wu Tsai Neuro’s Visualization Laboratory, which opened in 2021 as a community hub for researchers across campus to explore and develop new applications for these emerging technologies. The course was led by Visualization Lab co-director Christoph Leuze and radiology professor Bruce Daniel.

Leuze became interested in the possibilities of mixed reality technologies for visualizing MRI data during his time as a Wu Tsai Neuro interdisciplinary postdoctoral scholar working with Jennifer McNab, an associate professor of radiology who is now co-director of the Visualization lab.

Wu Tsai Neuro Visualization Lab co-director Christoph Leuze
Wu Tsai Neuro Visualization Lab co-director Christoph Leuze (Image credit: Nicholas Weiler)
“Mixed reality technologies are maturing to the point where they can produce really useful applications, and medicine is one of the first fields that’s going to benefit from that,” Leuze said. “We’ve seen huge demand from researchers and clinicians to get involved in mixed reality applications, but there has been a barrier because not many people have the technical know-how to get started. This course fills that gap by not only teaching students about potential applications of mixed reality technologies, but how to design and implement projects relevant to their own research interests.”

The open house was held following a panel discussion on mixed reality for medical training, hosted by Stanford Medical Mixed Reality (SMMR), a group that Leuze leads as executive director.

Learn more about the Visualization Lab at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute

A new adaptive optics rig for live cellular-resolution retinal imaging is under construction in the lab and is expected to launch in 2022.
“The motivation behind SMMR and the Wu Tsai Neuro Visualization Lab is to bring together all the groups at Stanford working on medical mixed reality and to invite the broader Stanford community to explore what’s possible with these technologies,” Leuze said. “Mixed reality is not just the metaverse. There are useful, practical applications of VR and AR technology that have the potential to advance many people’s research. This is one of the most fun technologies out there right now, so we want to encourage people to just come by and try it out.”

Take a tour of the SMMR Open House or check out a few of the student projects on display below:

Image credit: Nicholas Weiler
Mechanical engineering PhD student Jasmin Palmer, a member of Allison Okamura’s Collaborative Haptics and Robotics in Medicine (CHARM) Lab, incorporated an augmented reality headset and haptic feedback technology to develop a virtual lumbar puncture (spinal tap) training program. Users could not only visualize themselves performing the procedure, but also feel the changing physical pressure that guides experienced practitioners to get the needle in just the right spot.

“It’s a very haptic procedure, involving the physician palpating the spine with their hands and then feeling the pop to know they’ve gotten the needle through to the spinal cord properly,” Palmer said. “It seemed like a good procedure to try to simulate, especially because the radiologist I consulted with said there’s a real shortage of clinical dummies to help medical trainees learn the procedure.”

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