University of Calgary

CAVEman unveiled

May 23, 2007


U of C scientists unveil the virtual human

CAVEman useful in studying genetic diseases, surgical training

Scientists at the University of Calgary have created the world’s first complete object-oriented computer model of a human body. Unveiled today, the 4D human atlas, dubbed the CAVEman by the team who created it, allows scientists to literally get inside their experiments by translating medical and genomic data into 4D images.

“This project is a major breakthrough in medical informatics and systems biology,” says Dr. Grant Gall, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary. “My congratulations to Christoph Sensen and his team for building a tool that will be useful not only to researchers studying disease, but also to physicians exploring new pathways in surgical planning.”

CAVEman resides in the CAVE, a cube-shaped virtual reality room, also known as the “research Holodeck”, in which the 4D human model floats in space, projected from three walls and the floor below.

“Six years ago, we gathered a team of computer scientists, biologists, mathematicians, and artists,” says Christoph Sensen, PhD, director of the Sun Center of Excellence for Visual Genomics at the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine. “Our goal was to build a model of a complete human, at 10 times the resolution of anything else on the market. I am proud to say today, we have reached that goal.”

This project first began as the brainchild of a small company in Red Deer, Alberta. “Our initial goal was to make computer models that could be utilized for our massage therapy training program,” says Brenda Grosenick, co-owner of Kasterstener Inc. “We approached U of C with the concept, and suddenly, we were working on something much more elaborate than we could have ever imagined!”

The 4D human atlas is built upon data from basic anatomy textbooks. Fundamental body systems and organs were rendered into animated drawings by a graphic artist, and converted into Java 3DTM to bring them to life in the CAVE environment. “CAVEman is designed to look like a real human, but can also be sized to any scale we want,” says Sensen. “We can display all or only a few select components of the model at any given time.”

CAVEman is designed to help medical researchers investigate the genetics of various diseases, and new approaches to targeted treatments. “This technology is a powerful tool for my research into how genetic mutations lead to developmental problems such as cleft lip and palate,” says Benedikt Hallgrimsson, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and anatomy, U of C’s Faculty of Medicine. “As the technology grows, it will be useful for diverse studies of growth and development, both for creating predictive models and also for complex visualization.”
Sensen’s team was awarded funding support to create the 4D human atlas from Western Economic Diversification Canada, Alberta Advanced Education and Technology, and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.