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Doctors can now get a 3-D holographic look at your insides

Dr. Judy Yee has spent decades pouring over medical scans trying to make sense of 3-D problems on a flat screen. But now a breakthrough technology is making her job a lot easier.

She uses EchoPixel's True 3-D software. It takes data from CT and MRI scans and transforms it into 3-D holographic images so she can view and interact with patient tissues and organs as if they were real physical objects. Medical 3-D imaging is not new, but the way organs appear to pop out of the screen and the ease at which the anatomy can be manipulated has never been seen before in medicine.

"I have found it to be a completely novel way of looking at the CT data," said Dr. Yee, vice chair of radiology and biomedical imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, in a phone interview. "It's been a long time since I've seen anything like this. It's a game changer."

With True 3D, surgeons can practice removing a tumor from a brain.
Source: EchoPixel
With True 3D, surgeons can practice removing a tumor from a brain.

EchoPixel, a Mountain View, CA start-up, developed the software three years ago and it got FDA approval last year. The imaging technology allows doctors to more accurately diagnose disease and prepare for surgeries, say its developers.

"There's no reason why a doctor should be a looking at a 2-D image in 2016," said EchoPixel CTO Sergio Aguirre.

Aguirre describes True 3-D as a holographic experience, but explains that it is actually a virtual reality system, just without the VR headset. Instead, the user wears 3-D glasses paired with a HP Zvr display. A stylus allows the physician to effortlessly grab and manipulate the anatomy. Aquirre says the technology can work with many advanced hardware display, but the company partnered with HP to get the systems into hospitals worldwide.

Using a stylus, physicians can manipulate organs and tissue.
Source: EchoPixel
Using a stylus, physicians can manipulate organs and tissue.
"It's been a long time since I've seen anything like this. It's a game changer." -Dr. Judy Yee, MD, Vice Chair of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at UCSF

EchoPixel's True 3-D is already in use in hospitals. The Cleveland Clinic is using the technology to plan and prepare for liver surgery; pediatric surgeons at Stanford University use it to plan heart surgeries on babies missing pulmonary arteries; the technology has also enabled surgeons to detect more congenial heart defects in 40 percent less time.

Dr. Yee thinks one of the most promising uses of the technology is in colorectal cancer detection, one of her areas of expertise. Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the U.S. according to the National Cancer Institute. She explained that 50 percent of the U.S. population never goes in for screening because they fear colonoscopies. Dr. Yee said that using True 3-D, she is able to move around the folds in the colon to detect hidden polyps, something that has been difficult to do in the past.

"I can see it really taking off," said Dr. Yee. "The potential is unlimited in terms of the different body parts that you can use this for. It's a more intuitive approach to looking at anatomy."

EchoPixel plans to expand to real-time surgery, and Aquirre expects to start trials later this year. The company is also working toward regulatory approval in Europe, and plans to distribute worldwide, said Aguirre. The technology is sold on a subscription model for $25,000 a year.

Other companies in the space include Surgical Theater, a Cleveland, Ohio-based virtual reality company for neurosurgical planning and Israeli-based RealView Imaging, which enables doctors to view 3-D holograms of a patient's anatomy without 3-D glasses or a VR headset.

EchoPixel closed a $5.8 million seed round a few months ago and investors include Harris & Harris Group and Aurus Ventures of Chile.