Open-Source 3-D Imaging Software Improves Precision

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Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry have released software that significantly improves the effectiveness of using 3-D images in treating dental diseases and conditions. It advances current 3-D imaging by precisely aligning a series of anatomical scans obtained throughout a period of time.

The software “allows researchers to more accurately track both a disease and the effectiveness of its treatment,” said Lucia Cevidanes, assistant professor in the department of orthodontics and pediatric dentistry and the project’s principal investigator.

The software’s name, SlicerCMF, refers to its craniomaxillofacial applications in analyzing scans, or slices, of the mouth, jaws, face, and head. It works with various imaging tools, such as MRIs, CTs, nuclear medicine, and ultrasound. It is an extension of the original 3-D Slicer technology developed during the past 2 decades for the visualization and analysis of medical imaging data.

“It doesn’t include all the tools that are just for more general medicine, and it adds some other modules that are of specific interest for dentistry,” said Cevidanes, whose lab is part of the Dental and Craniofacial Bionetwork for Image Analysis (DCBIA), which adapted the original Slicer software for more specific dental applications.

For example, the ability to find and quantify changes to the jaw and the soft tissues of the mouth are crucial to dental researchers. SlicerCMF identifies specific biomarkers in the scans that are registered as future images of the problem area are added. Researchers monitoring jaw growth or how tissue is healing after surgery can see the amount of change over time as well as the direction of the change.

“I think what we have done is exciting,” said Cevidanes. “Our collaborative group is recognized internationally as being leaders in the field of registration, noting changes over time and quantifying them. At the same time, [the software allows] visualization of those changes with some very nice color maps or color-coded visualizations.”

The DCBIA is working with colleagues at the dental school who are using or testing the new software, including researchers in periodontology, physiology, surgery, orthodontics, and pediatric dentistry. Hector Rios, assistant professor in the department of periodontology and oral medicine, called it “an appealing and innovative resource for dental clinicians and scientists.”

“In periodontics, the 3-D evaluation of developmental, acquired, or disease-associated topographical changes to the local anatomy provides a valuable opportunity to better assess, classify, and monitor a number of different clinical conditions,” Rios said. “The new software provides us with a flexible and powerful resource to support further interdisciplinary collaboration in oral health sciences.”

Many 3-D imaging software programs are available, but they often are used primarily to create visualizations to educate patients or students about human anatomy, Cevidanes said. SlicerCMF does that as well, but it is more focused on gathering precise data to aid researchers.

Also, the Slicer technology is a free, “open-source” resource available to any researcher around the world. Researchers can go into the code and change its operation to suit their unique needs. The DCBIA has produced a series of video tutorials posted to YouTube. Compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux systems, it is downloadable online.

“Our initiative is intended to use only software that is free, that spends a lot of effort in the documentation of the source code, which makes it a very flexible platform,” said Cevidanes. “The purpose is truly to disseminate it and to train people as well as we can in how to use it.”

The project is supported by the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Other lead researchers hail from the University of North Carolina and Harvard University, as well as 30 US and international collaborators.

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