Think “3D animation” and you may not imagine a scientifically accurate beating heart. Yet the emerging field of medical animation is using 3D in ways that will have far more impact than kids’ films. Heart surgeons can use 3D technology to practice on virtual renditions of their patients before operating, which “can reduce errors, lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes,” says John Qualter, co-founder of BioDigital Systems. Qualter is a faculty member at the School of Medicine and a professor of medical animation at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies’ Center for Advanced Digital Applications.
BioDigital introduced its newest product, BioDigital Human, in 2011: a virtual human body embedded in a 3D software platform. Users can explore the organs of an incredible simulated human body, see animated diseases’ progress, and experience a difficult surgical procedure, like implanting a device. An organ, like the heart, can be isolated for study, allowing users to learn about the heart’s anatomy, heart disease and treatments. BioDigital Human was created with two anatomists at the School of Medicine, Dr. Vicky Harnik and Dr. Sally Frenkel. Development is ongoing—the group is building more detailed 3D models of human physiology that the software platform will display.
BioDigital was originally founded with Frank Sculli in 2002, and provided 3D animation and IT consulting to the healthcare industry and medical centers. A merger with CyberFiber Inc. added the simulation technology of its founder, Aaron Oliker. For a decade before BioDigital Human, the company produced online patient-education animations for pharmaceutical companies and developed, with Langone Medical Center’s surgeons, surgical animation and training modules used worldwide.
Today BioDigital employs 14, among them four NYU graduates: three medical animators and a Computer Science graduate. Beyond NYU, the company’s partnerships and relationships include Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Cleveland Clinic, Pfizer and Medtronic.
BioDigital raised a round of angel funding in 2010 to speed up development of the BioDigital Human, and expects to launch the beta version in Spring 2011. Then Qualter and his colleagues will look for more strategic partners and further growth for their creation—a new paradigm in interactive simulation.