This article will make us well-versed with technological aspects of Virtual Reality and its applications especially in the field of scientific databases and clinical trials. Virtual Reality , VR in short is a computer-generated, multidimensional sensory, artificial environment that users experience via interference tools that enable them to immerse themselves in the new environment, navigate within it and interact with objects and characters inhabiting the environment. This gives the user the impression of being in that world. VR is a way for humans to visualize, manipulate and interact with computers and extremely complex data like scientific databases. This article acquaints the readers that VR provides a uniquely different interface to access scientific database, which is a SANDBOX: Scientists Accessing Necessary Data Based on eXperimentation. This virtual reality tool allows the investigator to collect data from the scientific databases without ever typing in a query. The article describes in detail about scientific DB, need of SANDBOX along with how it works and its implementation in NASA. It also provides an insight into the digital Eye Bank used in clinical trials. The article is concluded with some recommendations on the full-fledged scope of VR in clinical trials along with its usage in the areas of Internal Medicine and Surgery.
We are familiar with the movie, Matrix and its series. The concept or, the technology used in this movie is Virtual Reality! British Novelist, Roald Dahl, has rightly said, We make realities out of our dreams and dreams out of our realities. We are the dreamers of the dream. Agent Smith and Neo are fighting with each other in a virtual environment; they have immersed themselves in a computer-generated artificial environment. What does the term virtual means? It means something which is not real; as simple as ABC! According to the American Heritage Dictionary, virtual means, existing in essence or effect though not in actual fact or form . Technology, which converges to form VR, is itself very sophisticated and hi-tech. This promising technology provides the best way to visualize information, enabling direct interaction for the user.
We live in a world whose properties we have come to know well through long familiarity. A display connected to a digital computer gives us a chance to gain familiarity with concepts not realizable in the physical world. It is a looking glass into a mathematical world. The ultimate display is a room within which a computer can control the existence of matter. The cardinal virtue of virtual reality is the ability to give users the sense that they are somewhere else .
Implementations of VR
BMW uses VR to generate various models during car production, Flight simulators are used to train pilots, NASA uses it to train astronauts for space walk, having virtual super-powers in a game may incite people to better behavior in the real world. Participants who were given the power to fly like Superman in virtual reality were more helpful afterward, out of virtual reality. The researchers suggest that embodying a superpower in virtual reality may make players to ‘think like superheroes’ and thus, facilitate subsequent helpful behavior in the real world. Some of the implementations present in various fields are:
Automobile, Aviation and NASA
Education like Mutual Telexistence, Virtual Rooms, Distributed VR, Steve etc
Anxiety disorders like PTSD
Artificial limb development,
Wound care of burn patients SnowWorld etc
Phobias SpiderWorld etc
Pain/anxiety during injections
Endoscopic therapy after Single Event Multilevel Surgery (SEMLS) for cerebral palsy
Train surgeons for laparoscopic cholecystectomy
Virtual Superheroes, 30 Jan 2013
Scientific databases store large amounts of information typically collected through experimentation. This information is then made available to investigators from a wide range of disciplines, mostly unfamiliar with databases and their associated query languages. A new interface to scientific databases, the SANDBOX: Scientists Accessing Necessary Data Based On eXperimentation has come. The SANDBOX is a virtual reality tool allowing an investigator to visualize the contents of a scientific database while retrieving data. As the data in these databases was typically collected through experimentation, an investigator can use the SANDBOX to retrieve data from the database by placing virtual instruments into a virtual reenactment of the original experiment in the same way as investigator uses an actual instrument to collect data from nature. These instruments give visual and auditory feedback, allowing the user to browse through the data, setting up and running experiments until they have collected the data they need. The SANDBOX allows users to become immersed in the DB. SANDBOX gives the investigator an environment to work in, rather than just a screen to look at. A prototype of the SANDBOX on a subset of NASA’s FIFE scientific database using the CAVE virtual reality theatre to access climatology theatre has already been implemented.
The CAVE is a projection based virtual reality system. The user enters a 10 foot by 10 foot by 10 foot room (or even 20ft by 20ft by 20ft in NASA) where images are projected onto the three of the walls and the floor. When the user dons a pair of lightweight StereoView LCD shutter glasses, the projected images fill the room and surround the user. The user can move around the room reasonably unencumbered, and can walk around or through the virtual objects in the CAVE. Since they can see their own bodies, users have a true sense of being inside the virtual environment. The user carries a physical three button wand to interact with the virtual objects in the CAVE.
SANDBOX is composed of 3 main components: VR Interface, Preprocessor and Local Memory. The VR Interface is responsible for maintaining the virtual environment. It displays the virtual instruments visually and audibly, and monitors the user s actions within the virtual environment. Based on the user s actions, the VR Interface sends requests to the Preprocessor to obtain the necessary data. Based on the current virtual time the VR Interface displays the appropriate data from the local memory. The Preprocessor is responsible for interfacing with the various components of the scientific DB to quickly retrieve data according to the needs of the VR interface and store it in Local Memory. The Local Memory maintains all the info necessary to support the VR Interface. This includes info on the user, the various tracking devices and the instruments that the user has placed in the virtual environment. The database schema is hidden from the user, while still giving the user access to the data. They deal with familiar concepts and instruments in a more natural environment. They can perform visualization while retrieving data.
User is surrounded by an elevated 3D plane on the floor, a pallet of instruments to choose from the right wall, a calendar to choose date from the left wall and a graph, which is displayed on front wall. All the values are displayed in the form of a graph.
Each scientific DB has its own set of instruments. The instruments on the pallet are 3D and animated. Left column of the instrument pallet has instruments like thermometer, wind sock and water beaker, which is linked to columns in relational DB. Center column of the instrument pallet has instruments like LANDSAT satellite, airplane and helicopter, which is linked to graphic files. Right column of the instrument pallet has instruments like Notepad and camera, which is linked to metadata. The user can pick an instrument off the instrument pallet, carry it over to a site, and place it there. Once the instrument is placed at a site, it begins to operate. The mercury level in the thermometer rises and falls with the temperature. The water level in the beaker rises and falls with the rainfall. The orientation of the wind-sock changes with the direction, and speed of the wind. The user can also hear the instruments. A beaker makes a drip sound when its water level rises. The faster the water level is rising, the louder the drip . The average strength of the wind measured by all the wind-socks is used to generate the whoosh sound the strength of the wind determines the pitch of the whoosh . The average temperature measured by all the thermometers is used to generate a cicada sound the higher the temperature, the louder the cicada . An instrument draws attention to itself when there is a change in the value it is monitoring. A user requiring information about a site (textual meta-data) can place the notepad at a site. A page with the text then appears above it. A user requiring a photograph taken at a site (graphical meta-data) can place the camera at a site. The picture of that site then appears above it. In the actual scientific DB, the user would have to integrate this info manually probably through SQL queries. When the user places virtual instruments into the virtual environment, they convert data and give the user feedback in visual and auditory form. The investigator can use this feedback to add additional instruments to the experiment, move the instruments to other locations, or remove unnecessary instruments. There is a continuous visual representation of the instruments on the pallet, placed at sites, and in the user s hand. The user physically places instruments instead of typing queries and can immediately see the result of an action. This allows a novice user to quickly begin using the system to run experiments. Instruments have their current values displayed graphically, audibly, and numerically.
The user can change the settings on a virtual environment using the menu. They can set the minimum and maximum values displayed by the instrument. They can even turn on or off whether the instrument displays quantitative values overhead, whether its values are shown on graph, and whether the instrument makes sound. Each instrument maintains its own individual settings.
Sequence of Actions to create SANDBOX
- Create the space and time mapping functions
- Use the existing metadata in the DB to create a familiar environment
- Choose the instrument classes, access functions, and filter functions from an existing library, or create them as needed
- Create the linkages as needed
The first 2 steps are necessary to setup the virtual environment
After that, instruments can be created and linked to DB as they are needed
Digital Eye Bank
Clinical trials can be time-consuming, expensive and intrusive, but they are also necessary. Thus, University of Tennessee Space Institute in Tullahoma developed an invention that makes clinical trials more efficient by moving them into the virtual world. Digital Eye bank is a computer software eye modeling program. It includes data from people s eyes for researchers to use when testing their inventions. It takes data from eyes of patients and builds it into models from the commercial optics program to be used for researchers virtual clinical trials. The idea of Eye Bank is to use existing clinical data and build in realistic and personalized eye models stored in a ready-to-use tool kit like a group of volunteers, said Chen. Then we can call on any specific eye to test a newly designed optical instrument on the computer and see what kind of performance the design gets. This testing can be done repeatedly without hurting real human subjects.
These days in most of the clinical trials, the types and conditions of eyes that are studied are not as varied as desired because it is difficult and expensive to find the diversity and range of subjects. Hence, it results in uncertainty in the performance of new instruments to detect and diagnose a range of unusual eye conditions. In the virtual world, users can manipulate the eye, such as opening it partially or rotating the pupil. They can also add certain conditions like growing a cataract or, developing a tear duct issue. This allows users to see how well their instrument measures in response to such conditions. For instance, we can predict how one person’s eye can react to LASIK surgery and simulate the day and night vision after the procedure,” said Chen. “Today, it is also not well known on how the long-term outcome of new interventions would be. But in the virtual world, we could induce cataract and dry eye and other aging conditions to predict the possible complicated outcomes and problems.” Eye Bank can also be helpful in medical education like training students on diseased eyes. Though it s currently used for optical research yet researchers see broad applications for this promising technology.
VR has wide application areas and has reached sufficient levels of maturity but its set-up is still expensive. VR can even be useful in detection of safety signals.
Signal is the information about an adverse event. Safety signals warrant further investigations, which include new adverse events that are not currently documented in the product label especially if serious and in rare untreated populations or, maybe an apparent increase in the severity of an adverse event that is already included in the product label or, occurrence of serious adverse events known to be extremely rare in the general population or, previously unrecognized interactions with other medicines, dietary supplements, foods, or medical devices etc.
VR can be used by any of the Statistical teams of pharmaceutical industries. There s full-fledged scope of VR in clinical trials in future: VR on top of Data Warehouse of clinical trial.