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Student team wins first place for proposal to use holograms to improve visualization of aneurysms

April 12, 2017

The four members of Team Holla Health pose with their first-place check.
From left: Michelle Fultz, John Brabender, Alex Fabrizio, and Zachary Kemp won first place in the recent Health Care AppJam.

Doctors currently look at blood flow in the body and examine abnormalities, such as aneurysms, through a 3-D, X-ray-based imaging technique.

Now, a Virginia Tech student team has proposed combining the existing technology of rotational angiographs with holographic technology to expand the visualization experience for physicians, patients, researchers, and students.

Being able to interact with holograms of parts of the body in the physical space around the viewer would be “extremely valuable,” the students noted, especially when studying abnormalities that are hard to see, due to their small size.

The team comprises John Brabender, of Leesburg, Virginia, a bioengineering senior; Alex Fabrizio, of Lynchburg, Virginia, an accounting and finance senior; Michelle Fultz, of Staunton, Virginia, a management senior; and Zachary Kemp, of Roanoke, Virginia, a neuroscience senior.

The team’s proposal for an app that would integrate use of the Microsoft HoloLens with rotational angiography won first place in the recent “Health Care AppJam,” sponsored by Avanade and Virginia Tech.

Aneurysms — balloon-like bulges caused by weakening of the artery wall — affect about 6 million people in the United States, 30,000 of whom experience a rupture each year, according to the students’ report.

Though 60 percent of those with a rupture survive, only 34 percent of them do not suffer “a permanent neurological deficit.” Preventing rupture is thus a primary goal.

Rotational angiographs — 3-D images built from a series of X-ray images — allow more of the smaller aneurysms to be depicted. Combining such images with holograms of the aneurysms would result in an even larger visualization experience that would allow increased learning about the body’s complex vascular system and more-personalized treatment options, the students’ proposal noted.

“Many patients have little to no medical knowledge, especially regarding complex surgical procedures," the proposal said. "Being able to put on a HoloLens and have your physician walk you through the exact pathway of surgery would be very valuable to patients and their families.”

The students noted that this combined visualization technology could also be used with electrocardiographs, for instance, for visualizing patient vital signs. 

The four students, who named their team “Holla Health,” met through various extracurricular activities. Serving as the group’s unofficial spokesperson, Fultz said she, Fabrizio, and Kemp had competed well together in the Norfolk Southern Case Competition earlier this year.

She enlisted Brabender, as his engineering knowledge would complement the business and neuroscience backgrounds of the others. “We made sure that everyone understood where each person’s strengths were in order to execute our project in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

After brainstorming, they settled on a concept in the fields of cardiology and neurology.

“Through our research, knowledge of current physician needs, and speaking with professionals in those fields, we were able to merge the two areas of interest together with the application of the HoloLens, rotational angiographs, and, ultimately, visualization,” Fultz said.

Asked what they learned most from the project, Fultz said: “There were many concepts that the HoloLens could be used for, but we needed to address issues that could be solved with an innovative combination of existing resources. We saw the significant value of taking an idealistic view on a product or innovation and molding it to produce something that is currently feasible with available technology.”

She added that the team also found significant value in paying attention to even the smallest of details. “Whether it is the communication aspect or the visual aspect, an idea can only come across to others well when a great deal of thought and attentiveness has been put into a proposal.”

All four plan to use their share of the $3,000 prize toward graduate degrees — Brabender, Fabrizio, and Kemp have been accepted for the next entering class in the master’s program in business analytics in the Pamplin College of Business, while Fultz is considering applying to that program as well as other options, including working and getting an MBA.

They are also consulting the competition’s judges and coordinators for advice on the next steps for their concept.

Katherine Kisovec, Avanade’s senior director and technology innovation advisor, said all the competing teams were “extremely engaged and applied our suggestions towards their final presentations.”

She said that “Holla Health struck a good balance of innovation, clearly understood the HoloLens capabilities, and had a very professional presentation.”

All participants at the competition seemed to have fun, she said, but the judges especially enjoyed seeing the creative ideas come to life. “Events like this are important to spark ideas, expose emerging technologies to wider audiences, and, above all, challenge students to challenge themselves as they prepare for their careers.” 

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