Taking control of your own medical future

surgery 3-d modeling.jpg

Ever wanted to take more control the next time you go in for surgery?

It’s not something many people think about, but I recently read an article in the Atlantic (link here) where Larry Smarr, a man suffering from Crohn’s disease, brought a full 3-d model of his insides (which he dubbed “Transparent Larry”) with him to the operating table in order to help assist his surgeon for the 5 hour operation to remove a portion of his colon.

How did he do this? Well, he happens to head the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, or Calit2, and has used a supercomputer to monitor his health and peer at his organs. Larry spent years taking precise measurements of every input (food) and output (you guessed it…) from his body, to help discover the initial signs of Crohn’s disease years before it would have been detectable from standard medical procedures.

His doctor who operated on him in 2016, Sonia Ramamoorthy, found the bizarre information supplied by her patient to be not only incredibly useful, but potentially groundbreaking as a possible next step in medical technology. “As a result, he arguably knows more about his own inner workings than anyone else ever has. His goal, as he puts it, is for each of us to become ‘the CEO of our own body.’ […] Inside Transparent Larry, Ramamoorthy got a jump on the surgery a week early. She could see which portion of the colon would have to be removed, where it was located, and how it was shaped. […] The virtual images were so helpful, she said later, that she wishes she could have them every time she operates: ‘It was wonderful. It was like the difference between driving around before and after Google Maps.’”

I was floored to think this type of 3-d data might someday be available not only to someone like Larry, but to the general populace. The current norm in surgical operations are to use a robotic equipment armed with multiple camera arms to help explore a patient’s insides during the procedure. But in Larry’s case, Ramamoorthy was able to shave nearly an hour off the procedure and could consult every facet of his insides over a week in advance to help familiarize the team who would be operating on him.

“Turning a two-dimensional MRI into three dimensions is not that hard, Larry told the audience at his lecture. The remaining challenge is to get more doctors to be like Ramamoorthy, and to get more engineers working in concert with them.”

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