'Visible Man' Hits the Internet, Radiologists Get the First Look

March 1, 1995

CHICAGO--The first long distance, computer-generated anatomy lesson was conducted via satellite as biologists from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, fed three-dimensional digital images of the human male body to participants at the annual scientific meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

CHICAGO--The first long distance, computer-generated anatomy lessonwas conducted via satellite as biologists from the Universityof Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, fed three-dimensionaldigital images of the human male body to participants at the annualscientific meeting of the Radiological Society of North America(RSNA).

The exercise served to introduce to the information superhighwaythe "Visible Man," an image data set that includes morethan 1,800 24-bit, full-color axial, coronal, and sagittal slicesof an entire human male cadaver. Access will be through the Internet,said project coordinator Michael Ackerman, PhD.

"The Visible Man represents an incredibly detailed atlasof human anatomy, created from thousands of images of a humanbody collected with state-of-the-art radiographic and photographictechniques. This is the first time such detailed digital informationabout an entire human body has been compiled," Donald A.B. Lindberg, MD, said at a press conference. Dr. Lindberg is directorof the National Library of Medicine, which funded the project.

The images developed for the Visible Man project not only aremore exquisitely detailed than any other currently available anatomicviews of the human male body but also are capable of manipulationby the viewer. Reconstructions of the data can be rotated in space,viewed in any plane, dissected, and reassembled.

Use in Cancer Research

"In the future, any anatomical part can be extracted fromthe body and viewed separately," said Victor M. Spitzer,PhD, assistant professor of radiology and cellular and structuralbiology, University of Colorado Health Science Center. (Dr. Spitzerand colleague David G. Whitlock, MD, PhD, provided the VisibleMan images )

Structures such as blood vessels can be followed throughout thebody and their relationship to other structures, such as organsand bones, can be seen, Dr. Spitzer noted.

Thus, the Visible Man database should prove to be an extremelyuseful tool for phsicians and researchers who study human anatomy.In addition, it will provide computer projections of such mechanismsas abnormal cell growth.

Mathematical or other software programs that simulate the progressionof a certain type of cancer one day may be merged with the VisibleMan to generate a model of the way cancer grows in the body, saidDr. Whitlock, professor of cellular and structural biology, Universityof Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Among the other potential uses of the data set are to design prostheses,help patients understand their diseases, and simulate surgicalprocedures in a military encounter or in a disaster situation.

The Visible Man was created by amassing digitized data from thebody of a 39-year-old condemned murderer who willed his body toscience after his execution by lethal injection. The man's entirebody was imaged with computed tomog-raphy (CT), magnetic resonance(MR) imaging, and x-rays.

The body was then placed in gelatin, frozen, and sliced cross-sectionallyinto exceptionally thin slices (1,878 in all). As each slice wascarefully removed, the remainder of the specimen was photographed.The photographs were then converted into digitized images thatwere correlated with the data from the radiologic studies andstored in a computer.

At present, the Visible Man database provides color photographsof all parts of the body, axial CT images of bone and soft tissue,and MR images in T1-weighted, T2-weighted, and proton densityforms. It also allows several slices to be displayed on a computerin different orientations and modalities at the same time.

Visible Female Due in the Fall

An even more detailed database is being created of a 59-year-oldfemale. The Visible Woman project, which should be completed byfall, 1995, will have data from more than 5,000 anatomical slices.

Accessing the Visible Man

Data from both the Visible Man and Visible Woman projects willbe accessible through the Internet, the worldwide connection ofintegrated computer networks, project coordinator Michael Ackerman,PhD, said at the RSNA meeting.

Users of the data will not be charged a fee to gain access tothe databases. However, they will have to sign a licensing agreementwith the National Library of Medicine that explains how the datawill be used, he said.

The Visible Man database requires enormous computer capability.As much as 2 weeks of uninterrupted Internet time and 15 gigabytesof storage space will be required to download the data, Dr. Ackermansaid.

For more information, physicians can contact Dr. Ackerman at theNational Library of Medicine via e-mail (ackerman@hpcc.gov).