Project on Image Guided Surgery:
A collaboration between the MIT AI Lab and Brigham and Women's Surgical Planning Laboratory

The Computer Vision Group of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab has been collaborating closely for several years with the Surgical Planning Laboratory of Brigham and Women's Hospital. As part of the collaboration, tools are being developed to support image guided surgery. Such tools will enable surgeons to visualize internal structures through an automated overlay of 3D reconstructions of internal anatomy on top of live video views of a patient. We are developing image analysis tools for leveraging the detailed three-dimensional structure and relationships in medical images. Sample applications are in preoperative surgical planning, intraoperative surgical guidance, navigation, and instrument tracking.


Constructing 3D Models

The anatomical structures that appear in an internal scan such as MR and CT must be explicitly extracted or segmented from the scan before they can be directly used for surface registration or for 3D visualization. By segmentation, we refer to the process of labeling individual voxels in the volumetric scan by tissue type, based on properties of the observed intensities as well as known anatomical information about normal subjects. Below is an image of the raw MR scan and an mpeg movie of all the sagittal slices.

The segmentation is performed using automated techniques and semi-automated techniques. Automatic segmentation techniques include an automatic gain artifact suppression technique based on expectation-maximization in association with a cortical volume isolation technique based on image morphology and active contours. Below is a slice of an MRI, with the brain, ventricles, and tumor segmented.

We use surface rendering techniques to display the segmented MRI structures. This procedure consists of first extracting bounding surfaces from the segmented MRI volume using the marching cubes algorithm. This algorithm generates a set of connected triangles to represent the 3D surface for each segmented structure. These surfaces are then displayed by selecting a virtual viewing camera location and orientation in the MRI coordinate frame and using standard computer graphics techniques to project the surface onto the viewing camera. This rendering process removes hidden portions of the surface, shades the surface according to its local normal, and optionally varies the surface opacity to allow glimpses into internal structures. Sample renderings and two movies are shown below.

Setup in the Operating Room

We have built a surgical navigation system that is currently used regularly for neurosurgical cases such as tumor resection at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The system consists of a portable cart containing a Sun UltraSPARC workstation and the hardware to drive the laser scanner and Flashpoint tracking system (Image Guided Technologies, Boulder, CO). On top of the cart is mounted an articulated extendible arm to which we attach a bar housing the laser scanner and Flashpoint cameras. The three linear Flashpoint cameras are inside the bar. The laser is attached to one end of the bar, and a video camera to the other. The joint between the arm and scanning bar has three degrees-of-freedom to allow easy placement of the bar in desired configurations. The figure below shows the cart set up in the operating room.

Laser Scanning

In order to register the patient to the segmented MR skin, the coordinates of points on the patient's skin must be obtained. We use a laser scanner to collect 3D data of the patient's scalp surface as positioned on the operating table. The scanner is a laser striping triangulation system consisting of a laser unit (low power laser source and cylindrical lens mounted on a stepper motor) and a video camera. The scanner consists of a laser mounted on a stepper motor at one end of a bar and a camera on the other end. The laser beam is split and projects a plane of light at the angle determined by the stepper motor. Each pixel of the camera defines a ray going through the center of projection of the camera. When the plane of light hits an object, a visible line appears on the object. Intersecting the laser plane with the optical ray yields a 3D point that lies on the object. The positional data of the patient is acquired with high positional accuracy (< 1 mm) while avoiding direct contact with the patient. In the images below, the patient's head is scanned with the laser scanner. The points of interest on the patient's head are selected using a simple mouse interface and are shown in red.


After a rough initial alignment has been performed, the automatic registration process performs a two-step optimization to accurately localize the best laser to MRI transformation. The basis of the registration algorithm we use has been previously described in some of our groups papers, listed

After the registration, we have the transformation from the MRI coordinate frame to the operating room coordinate frame--that is, we know exactly where the MRI points are positioned in the patient--both on the surface and internally. In the image below, we have blended the 3D skin model with the video image of the patient. The movies show the skin model being blended in and out to confirm the registration.

The registration points are overlaid on the 3D skin model as another method to verify the registration. The points are color coded based on the distance to the skin model (green = 0 mm, yellow = 2.5 mm, red = 5 mm).

Enhanced Reality Visualization

We can peel back the MRI skin and see where the internal structures are located relative to the viewpoint of the camera. Thus the surgeon has x-ray vision, a capability which will be needed more and more as we continue moving towards minimally-invasive surgeries.

Surgical Instrument Tracking

Another method of leveraging the 3D imagery is the tracking of medical instruments in the frame of reference of the medical imagery. Such visualization is useful for identifying exact position of internal probes whose tips are not directly visible or for identifying the tissue properties of structures that are visible but not necessarily known.

In addition to our intraoperative pointer, we have attached a bipolar simulator (Cadwell Laboratories Inc., Washington, USA) to the trackable probe (see image, right). This stimulator is used to determine the location of vital regions of the brain, including motor and sensory corticies and language area. When the stimulator is placed on motor cortex, a muscle response occurs, and when placed on sensory cortex, sensation in different areas is reported. Language suppression (including temporary loss of speech) occurs when the stimulator touches the languages area. As the neurosurgeon stimulates different areas of the brain and receives responses, it is common for him to place numbered markers on the cortex highlighting regions to avoid. When our probe is attached to the stimulator, we can obtain the position of the tip during stimulations and immediately produce a color-coded visualization highlighting these important areas.

Determining Stimulation Grid Positions

In some neurosurgical cases where the patient suffers from seizures, it is difficult to locate the focus of the seizure activity either visually or in the MR scan. In such cases, it is common for the patient to undergo two surgical procedures, one for placement of a electrode grid and one, about a week later, for removal of the lesion. During the first surgery, a grid of electrodes is placed on the surface of the cortex with wires coming out of the skin. During the next week, when the patient has seizure activity, the responses from the grid are monitored to localize the focus of the seizures.

In most cases, one of the technicians sketches on paper where the grid is located on the cortex as a reference during the week of monitoring. Using our navigational system, we touch each grid point with the Flashpoint probe and obtain the positions in model coordinates. Below is the rendered image with the grid points in red. The doctors monitoring the grid responses have reported that our images were very helpful in drawing a correspondence between grid numbers and positions on the cortex.

The electrodes can also be used to directly stimulate the surface of the cortex to map out the position of the motor and sensory corticies. In one case, we created a visualization where we colored the grid points depending on whether they were adjacent to motor cortex, sensory cortex, or the seizure focus. The neurosurgeon reported that the color-coding was very useful as he moved our probe over the cortex when planning out the region to resect.

Impact of Surgical Navigation System

The navigation system has been used at the Brigham and Women's Hospital for over 200 neurosurgical cases, and is currently being used routinely for 1-2 cases per week. The system achieves high positional accuracy with a simple, efficient interface that interferes little with normal operating room procedures, while supporting a wide range of cases. An investigation is underway to calculate the monetary savings of using our system for neurosurgery. Initial estimates indicate that the use our system reduces the cost of a neurosurgical procedure by $1000 to $5000, on average, per case. This savings is mainly due to the fact that our system enables the surgeon to confidently perform the surgery more quickly. In one case, the neurosurgeon reported that the use of our system reduced the length of the surgery from eight hours to five. Click
here to see the neurosurgical case of month at the Brigham and Women's Hospital Surgical Planning Lab web site.

Selected publications of the project

W.E.L. Grimson, G.J. Ettinger, T. Kapur, M.E. Leventon, W.M. Wells III, R. Kikinis. "Utilizing Segmented MRI Data in Image-Guided Surgery." In IJPRAI, 1996. [color postscript 13.0M]

W.E.L. Grimson, T. Lozano-Perez, W.M. Wells III, G.J. Ettinger, S.J. White, and R. Kikinis, "An Automatic Registration Method for Frameless Stereotaxy, Image Guided Surgery, and Enhanced Reality Visualization" In Transactions on Medical Imaging, 1996. [gzipped postscript 3.2M]

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Last updated Feb 5, 1999.
Michael Leventon