It’s challenging to clinically adopt a new technology partly because a user interface needs to be intuitive and flexible. It has to accommodate different user habits as clinicians may not necessarily have the time to learn something new from scratch. As such, designing a seamless program to be used by people of various expertise in computer science and backgrounds become a daunting task.

Recently, biomedical engineers at Duke University have created a fluid dynamics simulator which mimics human circulatory system at subcellular resolution. The tool allows physicians to view the vasculature of a patient and accurately forecast how decisions made on an insertion of stent, conduits or other forms of medical adjustments to blood flow and visualize how cancer cells adhere to tissues, will impact one’s surgical outcomes.

Interface exploration

Researchers named the tool HARVEY and at the moment, only those with knowledge on C programming are able to manipulate it, this truly limits the number of users. As cardiovascular disease goes on to be one of the leading causes of death in the US, there is a pressing need to find out how technology can interact with present data to come up with new insights.

With that, the group of Duke bioengineers decided to present HARVEY via different interfaces including typical desktop setting when users have to rely on their mouse and keyboard to immersive technology whereby users are wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets.

They recruited medical students and other biomedical researchers to use HARVEY in three situations: inserting a conduit between two blood vessels; enlarging or diminishing the size of a blood vessel, and putting a stent within a blood vessel. These are either done using a mouse and desktop; a special pointing tool and 3D glasses or in a fully immersive VR experience.

The results showed that both groups of potential users performed just as well using a mouse and desktop and in a fully immersive VR experience but less so for the pointing tool and 3D glasses because of the way they are being set up and handle.

A design architecture for similar platforms

Although researchers believe asking users to use a mouse and desktop or putting them in a fully immersive VR experience will not affect their efficiency, they realized people enjoyed 3D interface more. According to Amanda Randles, the Alfred Winborne and Victoria Stover Mordecai Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Duke and the project’s Principal Investigator, people are more likely to use HARVEY if it’s presented in an engaging and fun way. This is especially so if the tool is to be used for educating medical trainees.

The project has also developed a generalizable design architecture for other simulated workflows, researchers believe this can be applied to other similar platforms in the near future. Right now, Randles and her team plan to run more experiments to find out whether using 3D blood flow interface will help medical students to memorize crucial information and procedures and facilitate related biomedical research. All study findings were published in the Journal of Computational Science on 7 May.


Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.