Browsing Anatomical Image Databases:
A Case Study of the Visible Human
Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory and
Department of Computer Science
University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742 USA
To appear in Video Proc. ACM CHI '96 Conf, ACM Press, 1996.
(Video also available in
HCIL Video Reports 1995.)
Copyright on this material is held by the author(s).
This video demonstrates two user interface prototypes for browsing the
National Library of Medicine Visible Human
dataset on the internet. The first uses a graphical approach
and demonstrates a general interface for exploring
volumetric data. The second uses a textual approach for
exploring hierarchical information containing inter-relationships.
User interface, information exploration, digital library,
medical imaging, volume visualization, hierarchical
information, network access
The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), for its
Visible Human Project , is in the process of creating a
large digital library of anatomical images of both a male
and female subject. It contains MRI and CT scans as well
as cryosection images (digital color photos of axial cross-
sections). It is available via the internet to a large
community of users with varying backgrounds and expertise.
However, since the dataset is extremely large (15 Gigabytes
for the male) and could take weeks to download,
it is important for users to be able to retrieve only their
desired subset of images. We propose two user interface
prototypes to assist users in browsing the dataset and
downloading desired images.
A GRAPHICAL APPROACH
The first prototype  utilizes users' knowledge of the
location and visual appearance of anatomical structures
within the body. It allows the user to browse a miniature
version of the Visible Human digital body in order to select
and retrieve images. The direct manipulation interface
(Figure 1) presents the user with a coordinated pair of
orthogonal 2D cross-section views of the body. The left
view-window displays a coronal section (a front-view
longitudinal cut of the body), which gives an overview of
the dataset. The right view-window displays an axial
section (a cross-section perpendicular to the longitudinal
axis of the body), which acts as a preview of the higher
resolution cryosection images in the dataset.
A horizontal indicator on each view indicates the position,
on the body, of the cut shown in the other view. The user
can vertically drag each indicator to sweep the cut, shown
in the other view, through the body. The views provide
smooth, rapid feedback (approximately 20 fps on a SUN
SparcStation 1+) reflecting the cross-section at the sliding
cut plane, resulting in a dynamic animated effect of motion
through the body . This allows the user to easily explore
the contents of the entire dataset. When the user locates an
axial section for which high resolution data is desired, the
system downloads the corresponding full-size cryosection
image from the NLM archive over the internet and displays
it in a detail view.
Figure 1: The Graphical Prototype
A TEXTUAL APPROACH
The second prototype utilizes users' knowledge of medical
terminology of human anatomy. Users can interact with
portions of the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) Tree 
in order to select and retrieve Visible Human images.
MeSH, published by NLM, is a hierarchy of medical terms
pertaining to anatomy, histology, pathology, etc. Dynamic
interaction with the MeSH reveals inter-relationships
between terms, such as spatial proximity of anatomical
structures within the body.
The browser (Figure 2) displays the MeSH tree on the left
side of the screen as a table of contents that can be
dynamically expanded and contracted, level by level, via a
slider widget. The children of any term can be viewed
separately in subtree windows which appear in the middle
of the screen. A multi-selection widget filters these terms
by body region. Inter-relationships can be visualized by
clicking on a term, causing related terms in other windows
to be highlighted. Double-clicking on any term shows a
range of thumbnail images described by that term. Clicking
on a thumbnail will retrieve the corresponding full-size
cryosection image from the Visible Human dataset.
Figure 2: The Textual Prototype
For future work, we believe that combining these graphical
and textual approaches would provide a rich comprehensive
This research was supported by the National Library of
Medicine Fellowship Program. Support was administered
by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. We
greatly appreciate the guidance and encouragement received from
Catherine Plaisant and
The prototype interface software for the graphical approach
is fully functional and freely available. For information, see
or anonymous ftp.cs.umd.edu in /pub/hcil/Demos/VHP.
- National Library of Medicine Long Range Plan:
Electronic Imaging. NIH Publication No. 90-2197, US
Dept. of Health and Human Services (April 1990).
- National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD. MeSH --
Tree Structures, 1995.
- North, C., Shneiderman, B., Plaisant, C.
User Controlled Overviews of an Image Library: A Case Study of the Visible Human.
Proc. ACM Digital Libraries '96 Conf, ACM Press, 1996.
- Shneiderman, B. Dynamic Queries for Visual
Information Seeking. IEEE Software, Nov 1994, 70-77.
(Also available as
Browsing Anatomical Image Databases: A Case Study of the Visible Human /