June 17, 1994
Media Contact:Joann Rodgers
Phone: (410) 955-8659
E-mail: JRodgers@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

A new computer communications system is helping Johns Hopkins scientists rapidly collect medical images from other institutions to build a data base of normal and abnormal growth of children's skulls.

The technology, called an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switch, eventually will enable prediction of the long-term outcome of surgery performed to reconstruct abnormal skulls.

The technology is now carrying computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from the University of Maryland's medical school in Baltimore to a computer data base at Hopkins.

The ability of ATM to transfer large amounts of voice, image and other data virtually simultaneously among many computers located in different institutions will be used eventually to speed research in many areas, according to Carey Kriz, co-director of the Center for Information-enhanced Medicine. The Center was recently established as a cooperative venture with the Institute of Systems Sciences of the National University of Singapore.

Before ATM technology was available, transfer of multi-media information was hindered by the inability of existing computer communication systems to handle all the data rapidly, because the so-called bandwidths, or channels, through which data travel, were too narrow, Kriz says. ATM technology, however, provides a wider highway for faster movement of data, and turns computer lines into "fast-talking" communicators.

"It's like having one big pipe to send a lot of information through all at once, instead of having to feed information a little at a time into a narrower pipe," says John R. Dorl, the Center's director of systems and technologies.

The data base is being compiled by Hopkins researcher Joan T. Richtsmeier, Ph.D., associate professor of cell biology, anatomy and plastic surgery. Richtsmeier is studying how specific landmarks on children's skulls change position during growth.

"The immediate benefit to ATM is that physicians in different institutions will be able to study the same radiological images simultaneously during a consultation, without having to have films carried from one place to another," Richtsmeier says. "And over the long term the technology will enable us to accumulate a data base of images very rapidly and store them for easy access for research on normal and abnormal skull growth."

The ATM system was developed by Lightstream Corp. (Billerica, Mass.) which donated the equipment to Hopkins.

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