The project, say the researchers, combines advanced visualization hardware, software development, and neuroanatomy data and is expected to have a wide range of scientific, clinical, and educational applications. In addition, it is said to provide the foundation for a new holographic neurosurgical navigation system for deep brain stimulation - a surgery to implant electrodes that send electrical impulses to specific targets in the brain.
"More than 100 clinicians have had a chance to beta test this so far and the excitement around the technology has been exceptional," says lead researcher Cameron McIntyre, the Tilles-Weidenthal Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The method, says McIntyre, is already dramatically advancing scientists’ understanding of the complexities associated with certain, targeted brain surgeries.
The project focuses on visualizing the precise axon (nerve fiber) pathways in the brain. Axon pathfinding is a subfield of neural development concerning the process by which neurons send out axons to reach the correct targets in the brain.
To create their fully three-dimensional and interactive visualization the researchers incorporated decades of neural data from dozens of sources. Users of the technology, including neural engineers, neuroanatomists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons, are able to see both the animated "atlas" of the brain via the HoloLens headset and the axonal connections in front of them.
"The cool thing about this is that we have been able to integrate decades of neuro-anatomical knowledge into the context of the most modern brain visualization techniques," says McIntyre. "We're taking all of that anatomical knowledge and putting it into the hands of users in an entirely new and useful format."
To make their project interactive, the researchers asked expert neuroanatomists to interactively define axonal trajectories of the cortical, basal ganglia, and cerebellar systems of the brain while wearing the HoloLens headset.
"In doing so," says McIntyre, "we have produced what is the first anatomically realistic model of the major axonal pathways