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Albuquerque VA Medical Center Explores Medical Uses of Holographic Camera

By Chris Scheer

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albuquerque has been test-running a hologram machine, the Voxcam manufactured by Voxel Inc. of California, to see how it can be useful as a medical tool. Albuquerque is the only hospital in the country that has the Voxcam on site.

How the Hologram Is Compiled

With its ability to reconstruct bones, organs and blood vessels in a three-dimensional image, the hologram provides a unique view of the human body. The hologram is compiled from CT (computerized tomography) scans or MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) data. Those images consist of a series of visual slices through the part of the body being studied. The Voxcam, using a laser, puts them together into a three-dimensional whole.

Dr. George A. Brown has used more than 100 of the images in treating people with broken pelvises. The hologram can show layers of bone fragments, without one obscuring another, says Dr. Brown, who is on the VA staff and is assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Knowing exactly where the pieces of bone are can help doctors be more precise, making smaller surgical openings.

Image Is an Exact Duplicate

Since the image is an exact duplicate and is presented in the same size as the actual body part, a doctor can make actual measurements and test angles on the image. Before going into surgery, for instance, a doctor could use the hologram to test if a pin or screw to correct a fracture is long enough.

The holograms have been particularly useful for doctors looking at blood vessels in the brain. They also have been used to examine blood vessels in the legs to pinpoint blockages.

Ultimately, the holograms may be most useful for someone with severe trauma, an auto accident victim, for example. But right now it takes too long, 35 minutes, to get the pictures. A newer version of the machine, scheduled for release next year, should cut the time to 15 minutes.

Voxel currently has arrangements with about 38 hospitals around the country to translate their scans into holograms. The hologram images are returned to them one day after hospitals send the information to the companyís Laguna Hills headquarters.

Albuquerque operates as a beta site, where Voxel provides the machine and associated equipment for free, along with the technologists to run it. In return, doctors give feedback on problems and possibilities with the technology.

About the Author

Chris Scheer is a public affairs specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs Central Office in Washington, DC. You may reach Chris at 202-273-5732 or

March 1999