Introduction

The practice of medicine and study of biology have always relied upon visualizations to study the relationship of anatomic structure to biologic function and to detect and treat disease and trauma that disturb or threaten normal life processes. Traditionally, these visualizations have either been direct, via surgery or biopsy, or indirect, requiring extensive mental reconstruction. The revolutionary capabilities of new 3D and 4D medical imaging modalities (CT, MRI, PET, US, etc.), along with computer reconstruction and rendering of multidimensional medical and histologic volume image data, obviate the need for physical dissection or abstract assembly of anatomy and provide powerful new opportunities for medical diagnosis and treatment, as well as for biological investigations [54]. Locked within 3D biomedical images is significant information about the objects and their properties from which the images are derived. Efforts to unlock this information to reveal answers to the mysteries of form and function are couched in the domain of image processing and visualization. A variety of both standard and sophisticated methods have been developed to process (modify) images to selectively enhance the visibility and measurability of desired object features and properties. For example, both realism-preserving and perception-modulating approaches to image display have significantly advanced the practical usefulness of 3D biomedical imaging.

The value of biomedical images depends largely upon the context from which they are obtained and the scientific or medical interest and goals that motivate their production and use. However, the significant potential for 3D visualization in medicine remains largely unexploited and practical tools undeveloped. Many life-threatening diseases and/or quality-of-life afflictions still require physical interventions into the body to reduce or remove disease or to alleviate harmful or painful conditions. But minimally invasive or noninvasive interventions are now within reach that effectively increase physician performance in arresting or curing disease, that reduce risk, pain, complications, and reoccurrence for the patient, and that decrease health-care costs. What is yet required is focused reduction to practice of recent and continuing advances in visualization technology to provide new tools and procedures that physicians "must have" to treat their patients and that will empower scientists in biomedical studies of structure to function relationships.

Forming an image is mapping some property of an object onto image space. This space is used to visualize the object, and its properties and may be used to characterize quantitatively its structure or function. Imaging science may be defined as the study of these mappings and the development of ways to better understand them, to improve them, and to use them productively. The challenge of imaging science is to provide advanced capabilities for acquisition, processing, visualization, and quantitative analysis of biomedical images in order to increase substantially the faithful extraction of useful information that they contain. The particular challenge of imaging science in biomedical applications is to provide realistic and

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faithful displays, interactive manipulation and simulation, and accurate, reproducible measurements [3,25,60,65,74].

Since the 1970s the advent of multimodality 3D and 4D body imaging (CT, MR, PET, MEG, US, etc.) and 3D tomographic microscopy (i.e., confocal, atomic force) have fueled developments in imaging science based on multispectral image data classification, segmentation, registration, fusion, and visualization [5,16,21,30,33,35,36,39,42,52,54,56,73]. The multi-modality data sets are often very large in size, ranging from a few million bytes to several billion bytes and even a trillion bytes! Effective management, processing, analysis, and visualization of these data sets can only be accomplished with high-performance computing. Useful applications can be implemented on current modern workstations, particularly those with specialized hardware (for acceleration of graphics, for example). There are numerous examples of exciting problems in medicine, biology, and associated sciences that can be readily approached by today's computer and imaging science technology. The applications extend across scale space to incorporate both the outer and inner universes, ranging from imaging of organs and organ systems to microscopic imaging of cells and molecules.

The goal of visualization in biomedical computing is to formulate and realize a rational basis and efficient architecture for productive use of biomedical image data. This is a formidable task, one that consistently suggests that continued advances are required to address it effectively. The need for new approaches to image visualization and analysis will become increasingly important and pressing as improvements in technology enable more data of complex objects and processes to be acquired.

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