Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy examines a 3D hologram heart. Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy examines a 3D hologram heart. Sandra Oh in "Grey's Anatomy" examines a 3D hologram heart. (Photo: ABC Television)

As seen on TV: heart surgery guided by 3D holograms

RealView Imaging brings science-fiction technology to life.

Wouldn't it be great if doctors could reach out and actually touch their patient's heart and turn, manipulate and examine the entire thing, all without actually ever having to take out their scalpel to make an incision?

"Grey's Anatomy" fans were treated to that very image in early May as the hit show's 22nd episode of its 10th season ("We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together") included a scene where Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington) demonstrated to Dr. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) how 3D hologram-guided heart surgery could work.

Sandra Oh in Grey's Anatomy examines a 3D hologram heart.An animated GIF from "Grey's Anatomy" shows Sandra Oh and the 3D heart. (GIF: Yahoo! TV)

The real surprise, however, is that this technology actually exists in real life, and it comes courtesy of Israeli technology company RealView Imaging LTD. While the 3D technology isn't commercially available just yet, the company has already carried out a successful medical trial at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Israel (portions of which you can watch on RealView's website).

Before you start thinking there's some kind of magical slice-and-dice going on, the 3D hologram of the heart does not actually take part in performing the surgery. But it does give doctors a live view of the patient's heart in real, physical space – one that can even be manipulated, turned and bisected by the surgeon or physician.

The hologram is created by taking the 3D data available from an ultrasound, MRI, CT scan or other devices physicians use and, rather than printing that data out on paper, it reconstructs the data into a 3D hologram that can hover in free space.

It is, essentially, a way to evaluate a patient's vital organs that will not only save doctors time and money, but also give them the most organic view of their patient possible. Imagine your doctor holding your beating heart - or even your growing fetus - in his or her hand. While the main application so far has been in cardiology, RealView's system also has applications in obstetrics, neurosurgery and even orthopedics.

"What that does is that gives you the patient's anatomy, the real patient's anatomy in a position where it's hyper realistic, you can see all of it, you can intuitively know where you are or what's going on inside that anatomy in real time," RealView's medical director, Elchanan Bruckheimer, told in January. "So you can use that to guide procedures, you can use that to understand better the anatomy that you want to deal with. So I think that because we deal with 3D patients, having their 3D imaging in 3D, or 4D because it works with real time, is a great advantage because we can see what's happening with the anatomy while we're doing the actual procedure."

Unlike 3D holographic technologies of the past that required the use of special eyewear or other tools, RealView Imaging's solution is a wholly interactive one, no accessories required.

"It is not," Bruckheimer explained, "an illusion... It really reconstructs points of light in free space that are in full color."

Still in the beta testing stage of development, RealView hopes to launch its medical system commercially in 2015.

Here's a video of how the technology works:


Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows
As seen on TV: heart surgery guided by 3D holograms
The 3D hologram-guided heart surgery shown on an episode of 'Grey's Anatomy' is reality, not science fiction.