By Heidi Brett, marketing and public relations director, J Willard Marriott Library

One might wonder how the School of Dentistry and the Marriott Library would be partners. Strange bedfellows you say? Not at all.

TJ Ferrill, assistant head of Creative Spaces, along with other staff members, have been working with assistant professor Mark Durham, DMD, on exploring dental and medical projects involving augmented reality and 3-D scanning and printing. They’ve also toyed with using this technology for staff empowerment and visioning. 

Team empowerment

TJ Ferrill, the library’s assistant head of Creative Spaces, tries out a Hololens, which students and faculty are welcome to use.

At the request of Durham, the library team brought virtual reality technology such as the HTC Vive, Microsoft Hololens and the Oculus Rift to the School of Dentistry for top thinkers and leadership to try out. Present at this cross-pollination meeting were the associate vice president for academic affairs for Health Sciences, the vice chair of Medical and Dental Education, the director for Strategy and Workforce Planning and many other influencers.

“Because of this resource influence, we are now seriously rethinking technology’s new role in education,” said Durham. “This wouldn’t have happened without the vision and leadership of the Marriott Library. 

Diagnosing tongue cancer: Artificial intelligence and machine learning

This is a real dental drill with a 3-D printed adaptor mount for a virtual reality tracker. These are used to teach students drilling techniques, providing students with greater amount of visual data while they’re learning.

Advances in machine learning enable everyday researchers to apply new methods to existing research and clinical outcomes. Using sample photos of cancerous and healthy specimens, a recurrent neural network is trained on a desktop computer. The machine is given training data consisting of labeled images of different medical conditions, from which it learns patterns that are stored in “hidden layers.” These patterns are then applied to new images, which the machine gives a statistical likelihood of being cancerous or healthy.

The setup is an early demonstration of machine learning techniques that are being applied to a broad number of disciplines, including the early detection of tongue cancer.

Durham explains, “The idea is that the sensors could continually track the presence of various salivary molecules, leading to a wealth of data and potentially to early diagnosis of a variety of chronic disease states— which diseases are currently the biggest health care concern facing most nations.”

These are molds made from scans of actual dentures. These molds will be used to determine the exact placement of sensors, which will collect data on the patient’s blood glucose levels.

Detecting future health conditions

Ferrill has been working with Durham using 3-D scanning and replication of medical implants to experiment with various configurations of sensors to enable early detection of health problems. Currently, Durham is considering the idea of placing sensors inside the patient’s dentures. The idea is that the sensors could continually track the presence of bacteria, leading to a wealth of data and potentially to early diagnosis of disease such as mouth, tongue and throat cancer.

The future

Clinicians come to the library with ideas worth developing, but often without certainty about workflows for 3-D scanners, digital designs and 3-D printers. The library is able to serve these needs by having in-house expertise in the areas of design and fabrication, so researchers can focus on implementation and by connecting unlikely collaborators from arts, engineering, business and medicine.

James Keddington associate professor at the School of Dentistry, teaches students how to cut teeth in the dentistry lab. The library is working with Keddington to incorporate virtual reality into how he teaches.

Current applications for library services connect students and researchers with the tools they need to fabricate and prototype medical implants, prosthetics, custom orthotics and more.

Ferrill muses, “The library envisions a role in bridging the gap between ideas and prototypes through in-house expertise in 3-D scanning, modeling and printing.”

Greg Hatch, head of Creativity and Innovation Services says, “One of the elements of TJ’s job description is to stay abreast of technologies that are coming down the line. We are always interested in what is happening in technology, whether it has an obvious application to libraries or not. What we care about is the potential in providing applications that will make a difference for our users.”