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January 1999



DISC Delves into 3-D, Wireless, Databases

Students in the Distributed Information Systems Corporation (DISC), are delving into 3-D imaging, wireless communications, and database structures as they develop products for medical information systems.

DISC is part of Virginia Tech's Virtual Corporation program, which provides students with the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary, faculty-directed, student-run organizations that develop products and cutting-edge technologies in a corporate environment. At present, DISC has 60 student members and is planning to increase to 80 members for the spring semester.

This fall, DISC's successes included an algorithm to more than double the speed of searching in a relational medical database, and the development of a prototype software package for conducting sensory testing trials.

DISC is also developing wireless network site planning skills for planning indoor wireless networks for use in medical applications. In addition, DISC students are developing an image-rendering engine that will construct 3-D medical images from 2-D data on low-cost computing platforms.

"This spring, we may be able to put together a rudimentary medical record that contains 3-D images and is active over a wireless network," said Rick Mills, DISC chief operating officer and faculty advisor.

3-D Imaging

The goal of the 3-D imaging group is to create a viewer for conventional workstations that will (Continued from page 1.) allow medical personnel to look at DICOM images as 3-D images. The group, working with Department Head Leonard Ferrari, is working on algorithms that would combine a series of images from CAT scans, MRIs, and other sources, smooth the edges between individual sections and create a 3-D image.

Medical Database

Another product group is working with a hierarchical knowledge base scheme for storing, searching, and displaying medical information. In this type of database, the information is stored using relationships between concepts, such as a gastrointestinal system includes a stomach, which can contain an ulcer. DISC is working with databases developed in the Netherlands and by the National Library of Medicine and is trying to develop methods of speeding up access to the knowledge. In addition, the group is studying methods where a data entry screen could automatically self adjust when a new concept is entered into the database.

Last semester, in trying to speed up data access, a DISC group devised a method where the database could be searched with just two disk accesses. "It's more than twice as fast as conventional methods," said Brian Jaeger, (CS, '98), DISC president.

Wireless Communications

A third product group has been working with the Department's Mobile and Portable Radio Research Group (MPRG). This group has explored where wireless technology can be applied in the medical industry, such as wireless LANs or transmitting data from hospital to hospital. The group has also worked with a transmission site-planning tool developed by MPRG.

Sensory Evaluation

The fourth DISC product group has developed a prototype software package to be used by researchers conducting taste trials and preference testing. DISC hopes to develop a streamlined package that will be an affordable alternative to the currently available commercial packages that cost $6,000-$10,000 dollars, Jaeger said.
DISC is working with Susan Duncan in Food Science and Technology to develop the product. "This group has done a fantastic job," Jaeger said. "Nobody had expertise in food science, but they did the research and developed the prototype."
Jaeger explained that the software uses a "wizard" to develop the questions for a new trial, a Scantron machine for scoring results, and has a data export feature compatible with most commercial statistics software packages. The group plans to develop a web-based version.

"We have a lot of things coming together," said Mills. "Our strengths are that we're producing students who have worked in these areas, who are getting exposed to issues in medical informatics - along with the experience of running a company and participation in strategic planning. These students are having to address issues they won't encounter in a traditional classroom setting."

Mark Jones serves as chief faculty advisor and chief executive officer of DISC. Krishnan Ramu heads up the Virtual Corporation program.

The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Virginia Tech

Last Updated, May 9, 1999
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