NIH News Release
National Library of Medicine

Monday, October 2, 2000

Contact: Robert Mehnert
Kathy Cravedi
(301) 496-6308

The Visible Humans Grow Up
"Anatomy in the 21st Century"

(Bethesda, Md.) — "Anatomy in the 21st Century" is the theme of the third biennial conference of the Visible Human Project. The conference will be held on October 5-6, 2000 at the Natcher Conference Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

One of the most fascinating enterprises of the National Library of Medicine, the Visible Human Project has produced computer-generated images of two cadavers, one male and one female. These datasets are being used (without charge) by 1,400 licensees in 41 countries, and at four mirror sites in Asia and Europe. This conference will be the third time licensees have come together to share their findings and developments.

Dr. Michael Ackerman, head of NLM's High Performance Computing and Communications, directs the project. He predicts that over the next few decades the online cadaver will be more frequently used than actual cadavers or textbooks. "The virtual cadaver has a number of advantages over real cadavers," said Ackerman. "You can use it over and over, it's cheaper, you can make mistakes and correct them, and you can simulate diseases, injuries, and the whole range of normal anatomical structures-such as height, weight, and other normal anatomical configurations with one online cadaver."

An area of research that is growing rapidly is that of "segmentation and manipulation." "Segmentation helps you see the trees, or groves of trees, in the forest," said Dr. Terry Yoo, an NLM scientist. Objects that are easily perceived by the human eye, are lost among the dense data, in effect an information overload for the computer. Software is needed to aid the computer to distinguish a particular bone, see the bone in relation to other bones, and manipulate the data to allow the user to see the bones move. Some new approaches to solving this problem will be presented at the conference.

Some of the most recent uses of the Visible Humans that will be highlighted at the conference:

AnatLine — Scientists from the NLM, led by Earl Henderson, Deputy Director of NLM's Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications, will present information on AnatLine, a new anatomical image database that stores various parts of the body such as the heart, stomach and other thoracic structures. Users will be able to get access to these images from their home computer.

ATLAS of Functional Anatomy — This project, which refines the head and neck area, is being developed by Dr. Victor M. Spitzer at the University of Colorado. Mastication, swallowing, phonation, hearing, vision, and facial expression will be animated and seen in three dimensions.

Surgical Simulation — "Medical simulators will revolutionize clinical training the same way flight simulators revolutionized pilot training," according to Greg Merril, founder of HT Medical Systems of Gaithersburg, Md. HT Medical, one of the earliest users of Visible Human data, pioneered the development of endoscopic simulators and has now devised a computer-based heart model that will allow physicians to practice such procedures as balloon angioplasty, stent placement, and pacemaker leads placement before they attempt the real operation.

For further information about the conference, call Rick Banvard at 301 402-4100. Members of the media are invited to attend. Photos of the Visible Humans are available. Press inquiries should be directed by phone to Kathy Cravedi or Bob Mehnert at 301 496-6308 or by e-mail to