In the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, a medical team boards a miniature submarine that is injected into the bloodstream of the patient they hope to save. A sci-fi adventure ensues.
Although this scenario has remained in the realm of science fiction, today we are able to embark on our own fantastic voyages through the body thanks to the LINDSAY Virtual Human project, led by Dr. Christian Jacob, at the University of Calgary.
“Once one has seen the Fantastic Voyage it can shape your perception of the human body. The movie is very well done for its time, but no one has really recreated something like this. Why not?” Jacob asks.
Creating the Vision
In 2010, Dr. Bruce Wright from the Undergraduate Medical Education program, Jacob and the LINDSAY team began work on building a 3D virtual human for the medical classroom. Jacob gathered a multi-disciplinary team to work collaboratively on the LINDSAY project. The brilliant work of computer scientists, medical researchers, software developers and medical educators brought the virtual human to life.
“It turned into a big project where we not only needed to build the anatomy models but also think about how to add physiology, which is the computational medical sciences part, and then there is also the very important education component,” Jacob says.
The project started as an interactive medical slideshow presentation called LINDSAY Presenter but Jacob didn’t want to simply leave the project in the classroom.
Since then, the team has partnered with Zygote Media to create the Zygote 3D Anatomy Atlas & Dissection Lab, an anatomy browser app, and in 2013 launched the LINDSAY Web Atlas, a web based annotated specimens browser.
“Now we have a software package that helps us tell stories about the human body,” Jacob says. “It started as this professional medical educational tool but then we realized we had something bigger on our hands.”
Beyond the Medical Curriculum
In early 2013, Jacob started working with television host and science writer Jay Ingram. The idea was to create a production based on the Giant Walkthrough Brain.
In 1972, neuroscientist Joseph Bogen proposed the Giant Walkthrough Brain, a 60-story tall science museum of the human brain constructed to educate the public.
“Of course it was never realized because it was too crazy and too expensive but now we can recreate it in the virtual world,” Jacob says.
In conjunction with the Beakerhead festival and TELUS Spark, Ingram and the LINDSAY team are working together to create a live virtual walkthrough of the brain. The presentation will tell famous stories about the brain, such as Phineas Gage and the first Alzheimer’s patient, while also educating the audience about different parts and functions of the brain.
The LINDSAY project would not have been successful without the intense work of numerous individuals spanning a wide number of research disciplines.
“We have the education component, the medical science component and then the computational science component to make this all work,” Jacob says.
Without any one piece the project could not have evolved into what it is today. Jacob describes the unifying vision behind the project as “an attitude of making the inner workings of our bodies easier to comprehend and at the same time beautiful to look at.”
“LINDSAY Virtual Human is not only educational, fun to use and visually inspiring, but also strives to be scientifically accurate. We built LINDSAY as a hub for scientific storytelling about the human body.