Event Abstract

Using Virtual Reality to visualize MRI images of the human brain

  • 1 Universidad de La Laguna, Departamento de Psicología, Spain
  • 2 Instituto de Tecnologías Biomedicas, Spain
  • 3 University of La Laguna, Departamento de Ingeniería Informática y de Sistemas, Spain
  • 4 University of La Laguna, Departamento de Ciencias Médicas Básicas, Spain

The human brain is an incredibly complex three dimensional object. Visualizing this object has become possible with the advent of neuro-imaging techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI; 1). The images obtained with MRI are of crucial importance in clinical, educational, and research contexts. For example, in clinical contexts neurosurgeons may inspect MRI images to get an impression of the extent and character of brain abnormalities, and in educational contexts, students of the brain may use the images to learn about the basic anatomical facts of the brain. Finally, in research contexts, MRI images could be used to examine the spatio-temporal structure of functional activity in the whole-brain. Given the importance and widespread use of MRI images, good methods of visualization are required. Current techniques for visualizing MRI images rely on displaying 3D versions of the images on a 2D computer monitor (e.g., 2). This method of displaying 3D objects on a 2D medium has at least two major disadvantages. First, this method cannot reveal the accurate depth information of the 3D objects. Second, this method does not allow for an easy method of interacting with 3D objects. These disadvantages may hamper our current understanding of the 3D organization of brain abnormalities, anatomy, and functional activity. We have attempted to solve some of these issues by using Virtual Reality (VR). Although techniques for VR have been around for years (3), recent technological advancements in small scale computing have made VR accessible to the masses. Specifically, modern mobile phones now posses sufficient computing power to render a fully interactive VR experience (4). Our particular VR set up relies on a low-cost solution: a standard Android phone (LG Nexus 5x) combined with a Google Cardboard headset. The rendering engine on the Android phone relies on the Unity3d platform (5). Here we present a prototype of our VR project to visualize MRI images. We will have three demos. First, we will show a fully rendered VR brain constructed from MRI images. Users can use the Google Cardboard button to 'cut' away parts of the brain to reveal the inside anatomy. Second, we will show a so-called 'surface' render of the brain that was obtained by analyzing MRI images with the software Freesurfer (6). Finally, we will show how the spatio-temporal structure of functional activity can be overlayed on existing VR renders of the brain. These three examples provide motivation for the use of VR in clinical, educational, and research contexts, and may provide further insight into the 3D organization of the brain.


[1] Lauterbur, P. C. (1973). Image Formation by Induced Local Interactions: Examples Employing Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Nature, 242(5394), 190-191.

[2] http://magnetic-resonance.org/ch/20-04.html

[3] Steuer, J. (1992). Defining virtual reality: Dimensions determining telepresence. Journal of communication, 42(4), 73-93.

[4] Henrysson, A., Billinghurst, M., & Ollila, M. (2005, December). Virtual object manipulation using a mobile phone. In Proceedings of the 2005 international conference on Augmented tele-existence (pp. 164-171). ACM.

[5] http://unity3d.com/

[6] http://freesurfer.net/

Keywords: virtual reality, Neuro-imaging, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, visualization, FreeSurfer

Conference: Neuroinformatics 2016, Reading, United Kingdom, 3 Sep - 4 Sep, 2016.

Presentation Type: Poster

Topic: Visualization

Citation: Janssen N, Arnay Del Arco R and Hernández G (2016). Using Virtual Reality to visualize MRI images of the human brain. Front. Neuroinform. Conference Abstract: Neuroinformatics 2016. doi: 10.3389/conf.fninf.2016.20.00031

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Received: 28 Apr 2016; Published Online: 18 Jul 2016.

* Correspondence: Dr. Niels Janssen, Universidad de La Laguna, Departamento de Psicología, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, njanssen@ull.es

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