June 03, 2007

Medical Mashups

This week I was blogging about medical mashups. Combining different modalities often give synergistic information: combining a fMRI scan with a MRI scan allows determining where functional areas in the brain are relative to blood vessels, which are useful surgical landmarks. Looking at genetic expression laid on top of anatomy allows interesting correlation analysis of the health and function of tissues, and so on.

One of the important things for creating a good mashup is of course the base map and an API that allows users to place their information on top of it. Maybe we should start consider how to create "Google Body"? A standardized anatomy that people could use for education, research and demonstrations. The CAVEman system looks like a rough attempt in this direction, although I doubt it is very portable. The visible human is perhaps a more well-known dataset, already used for numerous applications (including a brief scene in The Fifth Element). But these are likely just crude forerunners to the real "Google body". What is needed is a fast, slick web interface that enables a critical mass of people to build applications, a sufficiently open licence and a good base dataset.

I guess the first step would be to figure out a good coordinate system for the body that enables GIS-like applications. The only GIS anatomy paper I know of deals with a rather specialised part and not any general body coordinate system. The brain has of course several established coordinate systems like the Talairach coordinates, and no doubt similar systems exist in other organs. But ideally we should have something like latitude and longitude, enabling easy mapping of overlays. It is a far more challenging problem than the almost spherical Earth, even when assuming a standard body. Plausibly a body GIS API would involve warping software warping some user coordinate system using landmarks onto the standard body, like how brain imaging data is warped onto standard brains. This might be too crude for truly individual medical data, but for general mashups it might be enough.

Posted by Anders3 at June 3, 2007 01:22 PM