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26 June 1998 3D visualization of middle ear structures
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The achievement of volume geometry data from middle ear structures and surrounding components performs a necessary supposition for the finite element simulation of the vibrational and transfer characteristics of the ossicular chain. So far those models base on generalized figures and size data from anatomy textbooks or particular manual and one- or two-dimensional distance measurements of single ossicles, mostly obtained by light microscopy, respectively. Therefore the goal of this study is to create a procedure for complete three-dimensional imaging of real middle ear structures (tympanic membrane, ossicles, ligaments) in vitro or even in vivo. The main problems are their microscopic size with relevant structures from 10 micrometer to 5 mm, representing various tissue properties (bone, soft tissue). Additionally, these structures are surrounded by the temporal bone, the most solid bone of the human body. Generally there exist several established diagnostic tools for medical imaging that could be used for geometry data acquisition, e.g., X-ray computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging. Basically they image different tissue parameters, either bony structures (ossicles), or soft tissue (tympanic membrane, ligaments). But considering this application those standard techniques allow low spatial resolution only, usually in the 0.5 - 1mm range, at least in one spatial direction. Thus particular structures of the middle ear region could even be missed completely because of their spatial location. In vitro there is a way out by collecting three complete data sets, each distinguished by 90 degree rotation of a cube-shaped temporal bone specimen. That allows high-resolution imaging in three orthogonal planes, which essentially supports the three-dimensional interpolation of the unknown elements, starting from the regularly set elements of the cubic grid with an edge extension given by the original two-dimensional matrix. A different approach represents the application of a micro- tomographic imaging device. Therefore an X-ray beam focused down to few microns passes the object in a tomographic arrangement. Subsequently the slices become reconstructed. Generally spatial resolution down to 10 micrometer may be obtained by using this procedure. But there exist few devices only, it is not available as standard equipment. The best results concerning spatial resolution should be achieved by applying conventional histologic sectioning techniques. Of course the target will become destroyed during the procedure. It is cut into sections (e.g., 10 micrometer thick), every layer is stained, and the image acquired and stored by a digital still-camera with appropriate resolution (e.g., 2024 X 3036). Three-dimensional reconstruction is done with the computer. The staining allows visual selection of bones and soft tissues, resolutions down to 10 micrometer are possible without target segmentation. But there arise some practical problems. Mainly the geometric context of the layers is affected by the cutting procedure, especially if cutting bone. Another problem performs the adjustment of the -- possibly distorted -- slices to each other. Artificial markers are necessary, which could allow automatic adjustment too. But the introduction and imaging of the markers is difficult inside the temporal bone specimen, that is interspersed by several cavities. Of course the internal target structures must not be destroyed by the marker introduction. Furthermore the embedding compound could disturb the image acquisition, e.g., by optical scattering of paraffin. A related alternative is given by layered ablation/grinding and imaging of the top layer. This saves the geometric consistency, but requires very tricky and time-consuming embedding procedures. Both approaches require considerable expenditures. The possible approaches are evaluated in detail and first results are compared. So far none of the above-mentioned procedures has been established as a standard tool for three-dimensional geometry data acquisition of the middle ear. Otherwise the establishment of a high-resolution imaging technique for those structures, even in vivo, would be of high interest in diagnostics, anatomy and middle ear modeling and research at all.
© (1998) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.
Uwe Vogel and Thomas Schmitt "3D visualization of middle ear structures", Proc. SPIE 3335, Medical Imaging 1998: Image Display, (26 June 1998);

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