Researchers from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering have found a way to bring together music, art, and science to provide better ways to stimulate and understand medical imaging of aneurysms in the brain.
Currently, if a patient comes into a medical clinic with an unruptured brain aneurysm, a clinician’s decision to operate or leave it depends on risk factors related to the patient’s medical history, as well as the aneurysm’s shape, size and location in the brain.
Aneurysms in the back of the brain, for example, are more likely to rupture than those at the front. However, many large aneurysms don’t ever rupture, and many small aneurysms that are normally left alone, do rupture.
So, the question remains, how to researchers treat riskier aneurysms?
David Steinman, a professor of mechanical engineering at UofT, uses an approach that fuses biomedical engineering and the arts to discover a solution to this issue. Collaborating with Toronto Western Hospital’s Aneurysm Clinic, as well as Peter Coppin, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Design at OCAD University, his lab is taking fresh insights from visual artists and sound designers to improve visual and audio communication in medical imaging, starting with aneurysms.
“Visualizations of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) are typically presented to clinicians as ‘canned’ animations, which tend to rely on dense engineering representations that unselectively portray both relevant and irrelevant details,” says Steinman.
Using graphics and sound to amplify key features, while suppressing irrelevant information, “would allow a user to visually concentrate on one field, while listening to the other. Certain aspects of complexity can be heard better than it can be seen,” he says.
This would then allow a clinician to more easily and efficiently decide whether to operate on an aneurysm.
If the simulated blood flow of the aneurysm were to show a very strong and unstable ‘jet’ coming into the aneurysm and against the aneurysm wall, “that might be a hint that that wall is more likely to be aggravated,” explains Steinman.
He hopes this innovative approach can help reduce the number of unnecessary treatments and the number of accidental ruptures. “Imagine I’m a patient with what I feel is a ticking time bomb in my head. What do I do about it? And a clinician tells me, ‘Well, we’re not sure,’” says Steinman. “I want to provide more information for the clinician. It’s a new piece of the puzzle to give to them.”
To work alongside Coppin’s team at OCAD University, he has recruited post-doctoral researcher Thangam Natarajan to translate CFD visually, and master’s student Dan MacDonald to translate CFD into sounds. They are both in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering.
Steinman is optimistic that his work will lead to a consistent, new way of representing and understanding how to treat aneurysms in medical clinics.
“The way I see it, you’d build a tool where the CFD data could be displayed on a simple interface,” Steinman says. “Then, you’d either put on headphones or turn on the speakers, just like a Doppler ultrasound exam. We’re maybe five years away from that.”