Are Apoqlar's holograms conquering medicine?
3D imaging in medicine can save lives. Doctors, who recently examined a patient's tumor on conventional CT and MRI scans, remained hesitant as it seemed inoperable. "However, the doctors found a way to plan safe surgery after viewing the CT in 3D by VSI HoloMedicine® and the patient was operated on successfully," said Sirko Pelzl, founder of the Apoqlar health start-up in Hamburg. Apoqlar's VSI HoloMedicine® is a software platform on which medical information such as MRI and CT scans, ultrasound, microscope or endoscopy images are displayed as 3D hologram images. Highly detailed anatomical structures become clearly visible. The holographic images are played back to doctors, who wear mixed reality glasses to view them.
Moving holograms freely in a space
"We have been a Microsoft Gold Partner since 2021, and the Microsoft HoloLens 2 hardware allows us to view holographic representations from every side. The images can be moved freely in space, resized and projected right onto the patient," Pelzl pointed out. The translucent virtual images unveil the doctor's area of operation underneath. "The holograms can be moved back and forth as needed and by voice or gesture control, so hands remain free and sterile." Dr Hans von Lücken, Senior Physician Head and Neck Surgery at Marienkrankenhaus, was one of the first to use the virtual support. The system has been significantly developed since then and is now certified medical software. "Meantime, VSI HoloMedicine® is used in 13 different medical fields and in more than 45 hospitals worldwide," Pelzl noted. Interest is particularly keen in the United States and Asia. Successful studies are in circulation, the procedure is becoming better known and the technology is improving all the time.
Increasing user numbers
"We need a powerful network to stream holograms. As a secure cloud and 5G become increasingly standard in hospitals, the application is also improving and becoming more user-friendly," Pelzi noted. Commenting on his goals, Pelzi said: "We want to become the world market leader." And the signs are good. "More and more clinics are investing in our technology. Whereas at first only a few pairs of glasses were ordered to try them out, we now have 30 to 50 users on different wards based on a two-year contract and secure anonymisation software - ShareMedix." The question now is not whether holomedicine will catch on, but how quickly.
Association to promote holomedicine on global stage
These objectives have led to the international Holomedicine® Association, which was founded in September 2021 and now has 300 members with hopes of reaching 4,000 one day. "The aim is to play an active role in shaping holomedicine. To this end, standards e.g., for medical studies and guidelines will be defined, but also technical and political issues will be advanced." Doctors account for 70 per cent of members followed by technicians and politicians who make up 30 per cent.
Holo approach suitable for teaching
The technology is already being used to plan surgeries and for patient education and medical training. The plastic representation of blood vessels, organs or tumours gives potential doctors a far better understanding of their work than textbooks and two-dimensional images. "Students can be connected to real operations per live stream and surgeons can link up with other experts for remote support," said Pelzl.
Earlier this year saw the launch of the "Hybrid Interaction Systems for Maintaining Health in Exceptional Situations" project to boost public acceptance of the technology in medicine. Intelligent assistance systems are being developed to enable remote diagnostics with virtual 3D avatars. Managed by the University of Hamburg, the project also involves Hamburg's Sympatient and Apoqlar start-ups, and has received EUR 1.8 million in funds from the German Ministry of Education and Research.
Read the other reports in our series:
SERIES (1): Relieving phantom pain with virtual reality