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“Virtual Chinese” Project Announced

A Chinese research group uniting experts in the life sciences and information science will soon build a three-dimensional computerized human image in a “virtual” project to represent the body--the bones, muscles, organs and blood vessels--of a Chinese man and a Chinese woman.

The research group -- composed of more than 30 computer and medical experts from the Institute of Computer Science under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, First Military Medical University and Capital University of Medical Sciences -- put forward on January 11 detailed goals of the “digitized virtual human project,” included in a list of high-tech research and development programs supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Researchers will first get all kinds of standard data on Oriental persons, setting up both a Chinese male and female database, to signal new progress in the first stages of the “virtual human project.” The human body is a complicated integrated whole consisting of 1,000 trillion cells. In the nervous system alone are about 100 billion neurons. With the development of the human genome project, it has become possible to simulate human information with complete accuracy. By combining computer imaging technology with clinical anatomy, scientists can now present the genes, proteins, cells, tissues and organs of human body in digital and visual representations in both micro and macro fields. However, many problems, such as maps of blood vessel and nervous system, have not yet been solved.

According to Luo Shuqian, deputy leader of the research group, the digitized virtual human involves a series basic science problems as well as key technology problems, so the project is full of challenges that arouse world-wide interest. In 1993, the US National Library of Medicine launched the “Visible Human Project” in which it obtained section scan datasets of the average male and female. This greatly improved our knowledge about humans. Experts say a digitized Oriental body model of will be of great significance in medical research, teaching and clinical medicine to modernize Chinese medical education and clinical medicine. Also, the model can become the basis for other digital simulations of the human body in aviation, space, automobile design, the building and furniture industries as well as in film, TV and advertising. Such a model can also prove useful in national defense industry. By presenting a full and working human image, the “digitized virtual human project” has important practical value that should bring about considerable social and economic benefits.

(科技日报 [Science and Technology Daily], January 14, 2002 by Wang Chun and Zhao Xiujuan, translated by Li Jinhui for china.org.cn)

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