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PMID: 16394740


Observable objects in biology and medicine extend across a range of scale, from individual molecules and cells; through the varieties of tissue and interstitial interfaces; and to complete organs, organ systems, and body parts. These objects include functional attributes of these systems such as biophysical, biomechanical, and physiologic properties. Imaging in three dimensions of such objects and their functions is possible now with the advent of high-resolution tomographic scanners and imaging systems. Medical applications include accurate anatomy and function mapping, enhanced diagnosis, accurate treatment planning and rehearsal, and education and training. Biologic applications include study and analysis of structure-to-function relationships in individual cells and organelles. The potential for revolutionary innovation in the practice of medicine and in biologic investigations lies in direct, fully immersive, real-time multisensory fusion of real and virtual information data streams into online, real-time images available during actual clinical procedures or biologic experiments. Current high-performance computing, advanced image processing and high-fidelity rendering capabilities have facilitated major progress toward realization of these goals. With these advances in hand, there are several important applications of three-dimensional viewing that will have a substantial impact on the practice of medicine.