Mikkel V. Petersen in front of a holographic screen visualising 3D data with realistic depth, which makes the screen content seemingly crawl out of the screen (photo: Tonny Foghmar).

A new visualisation technique based on augmented reality will help neurosurgeons at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark in the planning of complex surgery and teaching of medical students.

Behind the doors of the ‘HoloLab’ in the basement at Aarhus University Hospital (AUH) you find state-of-the-art augmented reality (AU) equipment. A holographic screen visualising 3D data with realistic depth, which makes the screen content seemingly crawl out of the screen and wireless AR glasses that makes 3D data float in the air like a ‘hologram’.

Mikkel V. Petersen is a post doc at CFIN (Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience), a neuroscience research unit at Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University, which has close connections to the neurology departments at AUH. His goal is to integrate AR technology in the visualization of MR and CT scans at Department of Neurosurgery at AUH.

MR and CT scans can be used to e.g., reconstruct 3D models of the cerebral cortex, visualise specific nerve fibers in the white matter of the brain as well as pathological structures. Instead of being attached to a two-dimensional computer screen, these virtual reconstructions can be placed anywhere – on a desk, in the middle of the room or even hovering above the patient during surgery.

AR glasses used in teaching
The wireless AR glasses can be connected and used by more persons to visualise the same hologram of e.g., the anatomy of the brain. This has already proven a unique and valuable tool.

- This new technology gives us a range of options. My goal is that neurosurgeons at AUH will use the AR glasses to visualise the brain anatomy of the individual patient before surgery, says Mikkel Petersen.

- This technique also facilitates learning. Medical students will e.g., be able to see details of the brain anatomy and present different cases where the lecturer together with the students can move freely around the hologram to closely study different structures.

It started with a PhD on Parkinson’s Disease
Mikkel Petersen started a PhD study in 2012 at CFIN on MR scans and fiber tracking in the brain of patients with Parkinson’s Disease. At a conference, he met one of the most influential researchers in Deep Brain Stimulation and Parkinson’s Disease. He invited Mikkel to his laboratory at Case Western Reserve University in the US to help construct a holographic atlas of the brain. Mikkel spent a year in the US at one of the leading laboratories in the world on AR technology in the anatomical area.

In 2020, Mikkel returned to Denmark to study the potentials of using AR technology in 3D visualisation of MR and CT scans in neurosurgery at AUH.

- Right now, I am developing a platform which must be able to receive the data from MR and CT scans and transmit these to AR glasses or a holographic screen located anywhere at AUH, says Mikkel.

According to the plan, the platform will be tested by neurosurgeons in the second half of 2022.

- If clinically relevant, this platform solution will be implemented at Department of Neurosurgery probably in the first half of 2023. After the testing, the platform will be adjusted, and AR glasses will be bought and made available to those involved in teaching activities.

Benefit to other departments at AUH
So far, Mikkel has focused on applying the AR technology to patients with brain tumours undergoing surgery, but he believes the technology can benefit other departments and patients at AUH as well.

- Obviously, the technology can be used in other types of neurosurgery. An improved 3D understanding of the anatomy of the individual patient can help the surgeon during the planning and execution of the surgical procedure, says Mikkel.

In other specialities such as vascular and plastic surgery, the technology can also be applied to closely study and plan complex cases.

- My dream is that HoloLab activities will grow and that the new technology will help doctors, researchers and patients at AUH.


Mikkel V. Petersen’s research project is financed by a funding just above DKK 2 million from Lundbeckfonden.

If you want to read more about the potential of holograms and 3D visualisation in the anatomical area, go to https://case.edu/holoanatomy/ at Case Western Reserve University in the US, which is leading in the development of this technology