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Astronomical medicine | Michelle Borkin | TEDxBoston

December 14, 2019

Translator: TED Translators admin
Reviewer: Camille Martínez I believe that we can both unravel
the mysteries of the universe and save human lives at the same time through interdisciplinary research. And I’m going to share with you today
just one story, my story, that has crossed these paths. We start the in supernova
remnant Cassiopeia A. It’s one of the youngest ones
in our galaxy, about 330 years old. An astronomy colleague
approached me one day, and she had over eight years
of magnificent data, just trying to understand
the 3-D structure of this nebula, the supernova remnant. But she had no way to look at it. So I looked at the data with her
and said, “I think I can help you.” And although — and this is all real data you’re seeing on the screen above me — this is the Hollywood rendering version, but the rough draft I made with her
looks something more like this. And she was able to make novel discoveries
about how supernovas explode and how shells explode within it, using a piece of software developed
at Brigham and Women’s Hospital here in Boston, called 3D Slicer. It was originally developed
for looking at patients’ brain scans, doing surgical planning and doing 3-D renderings of anatomy. Who knew our solution was lurking
just across the river? Now, people don’t believe me when I tell them that astronomy
and medical imaging — these two seemingly different fields — are really similar. So we’re going to play a little game
I like to call “Which is which?” I play this with new doctors
and astronomers I work with. I’m going to show you
two images on the screen. One of them is biomedical
and one of them is astronomical, and you have to pick them
correctly in your head. So here is the first set. And again, one of these is biomedical
and one is astronomical. I’ll give you a second
to make your little vote mentally. So it turns out the one on the left
is some of the raw data of the supernova remnant
we were just looking at, and on the right, we have
an angiogram of a patient’s heart and coronary arteries. OK, we’re going to try another one. Now, this one is much closer
to my daily bread and butter. Tell me which is which. And one of these is literally
millimeters across, and the other is billions of miles. So, it turns out the one on the left
is a confocal microscopy image of a human cornea, and on the right, we have
a radio telescope image of the star-forming region NGC-1333. Now, aside from the fact
that these images look similar and that doctors trying to find
a tumor in a patient’s brain or a young star forming is similar, the way the data comes
from the machine or the telescope is remarkably similar. Here’s an MRI scanner. And if you’ve never seen
the raw data of a patient’s brain, this is what it looks like. When the MRI scanner
is acquiring the data, it goes in slices. So you can see
the patient’s nose, their eyes; it kind of progresses
towards the middle of the head; you can start to see the cortex, and it steps through
to the back of the brain. Now, believe it or not, telescopes, and particularly radio
telescopes, operate in a similar manner. If we were to look at the raw data
from these telescopes … We’re going to look
at a nebula called M16. We start with this radio telescope
at the front of the nebula, stepping back towards
the middle of the nebula, just like the middle
of the patient’s brain — those bright regions
are where young stars are forming — all the way to the back of the nebula, just like the back of the patient’s head. Now, although the doctors
are able to then take this data and look at it in 3-D
and do surgical planning, this is cutting-edge, just about as good as you get
with any astronomer, and this is what they have to look at
to understand the 3-D structure and velocity’s momentum in our universe. But we can do better. So, you might recognize
this nebula more like this: the famous Hubble image of the Pillars
of Creation or the Eagle Nebula. And, I’m going to fade this
out onto a radio image, it’s a false color in the background, and fade away the Hubble image
you’re used to. But we don’t need to just look
at this in 3-D, we can look at it in 2-D, and here I’m using a radiology
tool kit called OsiriX. When I showed this
to astronomer Marc Pound, whose data this is, he was amazed, because he had
been trying so hard to study the impact
of a young group of stars. And he had this theory that there’s this wind crashing
and tossing the pillars over, and it took him months to prove this
with conventional visualization. But in one shot, you can
see the shock wave of wind blasting through across
to the left-hand side of the screen. Now, I don’t think myself
or any of my collaborators would’ve anticipated
how far this has gone, and by sharing the medical
technology with astronomy and astronomy with medical, we’ve been able to find
new stars and supernova remnants, and revolutionize how you do
heart diagnostics and look at data for different patients
and organize it and data-mine it. I don’t have time to show you
all these great projects, but I’ll show you one of them. This is a collaboration
I’ve been working on, called The Multiscale
Hemodynamics Project. I’m working with doctors
at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Now, what this represents is a novel way
of doing heart disease diagnostics. And instead of the conventional
invasive angiography, this is just a CT scan. What you see here
are the coronary arteries. So you have your heart, and the arteries
wrap around the outside. These are the arteries
you worry about getting blocked and giving you a heart attack and killing you. So it’s really important
that we look at them. Now, this is a CT scan of a patient with a blood-flow simulation —
that’s the coloring up there. That simulation was originally developed
for studying the structure of DNA, and then the visualization was done
with a tool kit called VisIt, originally developed
for physics simulations. Interdisciplinary. My assignment was to try and come up with
a new way of looking at this to make it optimal
for the doctors and hospital: How can we make it the most efficient
for them for a diagnosis? And I came up with this image. It’s 2-D; I took the whole artery and collapsed
everything into a 2-D plane. I got some very quizzical looks when I showed this
to the doctors originally. But I was inspired to do this
representation from my astronomy work, where we’ve been using these
tree diagrams along the bottom to understand the structure of nebulae. Well, we were inspired in that work from the bioinformatics
and genome community, where they use these tree diagrams
to understand their gene expression data. They were inspired
by the evolutionary biologists, who use these tree diagrams to understand
how species evolve and are related, the first of which was drawn
by Sir Charles Darwin. Here’s an example
from his “Origin of the Species.” So, straight from Darwin,
through biology, physics, astronomy, back to medical imaging. Interdisciplinary. One may say, “Well, is this
2-D representation better?” I did a study at Harvard Medical School
to answer just that question. And it turns out, if you present
the image on the left to a doctor, on average, they find about 39%
of the high-risk regions that could explode or block
your heart and kill you. On the right, we can do a little better, and they’re able to find 62% of these
high-risk, dangerous regions. But we can do even better, simply by changing the colors. The rainbow color map is a sin most
doctors and astronomers and physicists are guilty of using. (Laughs) And it doesn’t focus the best
qualities of your visual system. The human system can see
brightness variation, contrast … not really good at that whole
“green-yellow-blue” thing. But now, if you look in the shades of red and highlight the regions
that are most diseased with dark red, now doctors can find 91%
of the high-risk regions, simply by changing the colors. (Applause) And I would have never known
the importance of color if it was not for my computer science
and visualization collaborators showing this to me. So again: interdisciplinary collaboration. How do you even get
a collaboration like this? In the case of astronomical medicine, it started with a Harvard Astronomy
professor, Alyssa Goodman, serendipitously meeting a computer
scientist and imaging specialist from Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, and their recruitment
of a very adventurous, open-minded, young student. (Laughter) And from there, it has exploded:
we’ve pulled in cardiologists and computer scientists and radiologists and astronomers, physicists,
chemists, computational physicists — I mean, we’ve brought
so many people together. And it’s been enlightening to share domains and information
across borders. And we’re still going. And although most of the people
up on the screen are from Harvard or Harvard Med, now we cross different institutions
and continents to work together. All I can say is,
it has just been wonderful. We’re continuing to make new discoveries. And I just urge you: attend conferences not in your own domain, read books and journals not
in your own discipline, watch TED talks and come
to events like this and say hi to the neighbor
sitting next to you, because you really never know where your next great idea
is going to come from. Thank you. (Applause)


  • Reply Alireza Behzadnia January 8, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    no offense but the way she talks, is quite irritating.

  • Reply WiseFool January 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    So awesome.

  • Reply Lord Anton Hvornum January 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    @AlirezaBehzadnia Agree, she's trying to hard.. mainly trying to sound more like a "up town girl" sorta thing.. down to earth people is much more easier to listen to!

  • Reply timl2k11 January 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Beautiful. Very well presented!

  • Reply Alireza Behzadnia January 11, 2012 at 3:04 am

    @timl2k11 lol. she presented nothing. in my opinion.

  • Reply Samme Samareta January 16, 2012 at 6:31 am

    What we find irritating in other people will lead us to better understand about ourselves.
    "She presented nothing"??? Are you even listening and watching???

  • Reply kheffah February 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Truely revolutionary, very inspiring, life changing. LIKED, FAVORITED and thought about very deeply.

  • Reply UndeniablyLiz April 18, 2012 at 4:36 am

    It is difficult to not collaborate with one or more other fields. And quite frankly, it's stupid not to.

  • Reply zrajm August 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    Huh? I didn't even notice anything weird. — What exactly is it that you dislike?

  • Reply Alireza Behzadnia August 28, 2012 at 10:55 am

    the way she presents, as if she's talking to primary kids. its just abit over enthusiastic, over something not VERY significant.

  • Reply Qi Huna June 5, 2013 at 3:32 am

    He said she said what they said I thought you said he said she said what they said I know you said..

  • Reply Radio Dx March 26, 2016 at 1:02 am

    me encantó!! realmente es fascinante

  • Reply Lukeyboy Gaming August 29, 2018 at 10:08 am


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