MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF Technology electrical engineer Eric L. Grimson has the kind of high-tech wizardry the Pentagon needs. He has devised advanced software that lets computers pick out military targets from a confusing jumble of images. But a recent sabbatical offered a chance to try something different. With colleagues at MIT, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham & Women's Hospital, he has created what doctors jokingly call "Nintendo surgery"--a system that can "see" deep into the body to guide the surgeon's knife.
First an MRI or CAT scan creates a 3-D internal image of, say, the brain and its tumors. Next a laser scanner adds a 3-D view of the outside of the patient's body. Grimson's software then uses the external data to superimpose the internal scans onto a live video image of the patient--a process known as registration. The result is the next best thing to X-ray vision. As they operate, doctors can see the patient through the video camera and, at the same time, examine blood vessels, organs, or tumors. Doctors have used the system in about a dozen brain surgeries. But Grimson sees wider uses--for everything from sinus operations to arthroscopic knee surgery.