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The Visible Human Project®

Overview

The NLM Visible Human Project® has created publicly-available complete, anatomically detailed, three-dimensional representations of a human male body and a human female body. Specifically, the VHP provides a public-domain library of cross-sectional cryosection, CT, and MRI images obtained from one male cadaver and one female cadaver. The Visible Man data set was publicly released in 1994 and the Visible Woman in 1995.

The data sets were designed to serve as (1) a reference for the study of human anatomy, (2) public-domain data for testing medical imaging algorithms, and (3) a test bed and model for the construction of network-accessible image libraries. The VHP data sets have been applied to a wide range of educational, diagnostic, treatment planning, virtual reality, artistic, mathematical, and industrial uses. As of 2017, about 3,800 licensees from 66 countries are authorized to access the data sets.

NLM thanks the man and the woman who each willed their body to science, thereby enabling this project.

The VHP data sets were created under contract to NLM by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (primary) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Please send queries about the Project to vhp@nlm.nih.gov.

Origin, Goals, and Usage

The Visible Human Project® is an outgrowth of the NLM 1986 Long-Range Plan, which foresaw a future in which NLM “bibliographic and factual database services would be complemented by libraries of digital images, distributed over high speed computer networks and by high capacity physical media.”

The 1998 NLM Board of Regents report affirmed “the long-term goal of the Visible Human Project, which is to produce a system of knowledge structures that will transparently link visual knowledge forms to symbolic knowledge formats such as the names of body parts.” The report continued: “NLM support of research on image data sets and tools that offer the potential of generating new biomedical knowledge, and the means to develop and use such knowledge, in collaboration with U.S. and international research partners, is a valuable contribution to international health efforts. Such research should emphasize the tools, technologies, and technical standards for creating, managing, and accessing the large-scale image data sets like those being developed by the Visible Human Project.”

According to that report, by 1998 the Visible Human data sets had “been licensed for use worldwide by some 1000 research, academic, and industrial groups in 28 countries. The images are being used for teaching, modeling radiation absorption and therapy, equipment design, surgical simulation, and simulation of diagnostic procedures, ….”

Visible Human Male

The Visible Human Male data set consists of MRI, CT, and anatomical images. Axial MRI images of the head and neck, and longitudinal sections of the rest of the body were obtained at 4mm intervals. The MRI images are 256 by 256 pixel resolution with each pixel made up of 12 bits of gray tone. The CT data consist of axial CT scans of the entire body taken at 1mm intervals at a pixel resolution of 512 by 512 with each pixel made up of 12 bits of gray tone. The approximately 7.5 megabyte axial anatomical images are 2048 pixels by 1216 pixels, with each pixel being .33mm in size, and defined by 24 bits of color. The anatomical cross-sections are at 1mm intervals to coincide with the CT images. There are 1,871 cross-sections for both CT and anatomical images. The complete male data set is approximately 15 gigabytes.

Higher resolution axial anatomical images of the male data set were made available in August 2000. Seventy-millimeter still photographs taken during the cryosectioning procedure were digitized at a pixel resolution of 4096 pixels by 2700 pixels. These images, each approximately 32 megabytes in size, are available for all 1,871 male color cryosections.

Visible Human Female

The Visible Human Female data set has the same characteristics as the Visible Human Male. However, the axial anatomical images were obtained at 0.33 mm intervals. Spacing in the “Z” dimension was reduced to 0.33mm in order to match the 0.33mm pixel sizing in the “X-Y” plane. As a result, developers interested in three-dimensional reconstructions are able to work with cubic voxels. There are 5,189 anatomical images in the Visible Human Female data set. The data set size is approximately 40 gigabytes.

NLM VHP Applications

Several VHP applications have been developed at NLM or under NLM direction, including:

  • Cryosection, MRI, and CT image data of a 72-year-old male. Cryosections done at 0.174mm intervals and photographed at a resolution of 1056 x 1528 pixels. Work done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, under contract to NLM. Available only to VHP license holders. These images can be found in the directory BWH_Harvard when logged on to the NLM image server.
  • AnatQuest: 3D rendered images of anatomic objects created from the Visible Human cryosections; cryosections are associated with anatomical terminology.
  • AnatLine: A prototype system consisting of an anatomical image database and an online browser that provide a client/server Internet interface to access gross anatomy images of the human body, developed by NLM/LHNCBC.
  • Insight Toolkit (ITK): Open-source public-domain software toolkit for performing registration and segmentation. ITK was developed by six principal organizations under contract to NLM: three commercial (KitwareGE Corporate R&D, and Insightful), and three academic (UNC Chapel HillUniversity of Utah, and University of Pennsylvania), with additional input from Harvard Brigham & Women’s Hospital, University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University.

Other VHP Information

VHP Conference Proceedings

The following Visible Human Project conferences were held at the William H. Natcher Conference Center on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland:

Publications

  •  VHJOE: Visible Human Journal of Endoscopy.
  • NLM's Current Bibliographies in Medicine, Visible Human Project® (CBM 2013-4 to 2014-5): 39 citations from April 2013 through May 2014
  • NLM's Current Bibliographies in Medicine, Visible Human Project® (CBM 2010-3 to 2013-3): 75 citations from March 2010 through March 2013
  • NLM's Current Bibliographies in Medicine, Visible Human Project® (CBM 2009-6 to 2010-3): 33 citations from June 2009 through March 2010
  • NLM's Current Bibliographies in Medicine, Visible Human Project® (CBM 2007-4 to 2009-5): 38 citations from April 2007 through May 2009
  • NLM's Current Bibliographies in Medicine, Visible Human Project®(CBM 2007-1): 912 citations from January 1987 - March 2007
  • Banvard, Richard A., The Visible Human Project® Image Data Set From Inception to Completion and Beyond, Proceedings CODATA 2002: Frontiers of Scientific and Technical Data, Track I-D-2: Medical and Health Data, Montréal, Canada, October, 2002.
  • D-Lib magazine article entitled "Accessing the Visible Human Project®" by Michael J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
 
photo of mid-torso slice