I want my own skull... on the computer.
August 10, 2011 5:54 PM   Subscribe

I want my own skull... on the computer.

There are two questions I'm asking here... how and how much?

I want to get a detailed (as detailed as possible) scan of my skull that I could then spin around in a 3D program (what programs?). Don't ask what my motivation is.

I assume this involves going to the doctor, and I know there would be a cost involved. If I made an appointment to just to get a scan, without any checkups of any kind with the pure goal of walking out with the 3D files of my skull, what would I pay for this? I would appreciate a range of prices (assume I may get it done in a tiny town or a big city, all things considered).

Ask any questions that may help me get to my solution.
posted by darkgroove to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had several brain MRIs over the course of my life, and I've wanted to do this very thing with them. It turned out to be difficult.

The first time I had traditional hardcopy of the images, i.e. those big transparent sheets that look like X-Rays.

More recently I asked for and was given a CD with the scan images, but unfortunately they don't just give you a bunch of jpegs. They came embedded in some godawful viewer program that ran only in MS Explorer on Windows, only showed very small copies of the images, and was very difficult to navigate. I gathered that the images were stored in there in some obscure medical format with lots of metadata (3D location, etc), but I lost steam trying to figure it all out and eventually gave up.

Good luck, though. I'll be watching this thread for future reference. Hopefully some more medically-knowledgeable mefite will chime in.

Oh, and as for cost: I can't help with that as my MRIs were paid for by insurance. There's so much excess capacity, though, I'd think you'd be able to get something for a reasonable price from a standalone clinic. I'd first make sure you can actually do something with it,though.
posted by alms at 6:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your best bet is to try to get yourself into an MRI study at a University or something -- when I did those we were happy to give people copies of the pictures of their heads afterwards. There are free programs for visualizing MRIs, but I don't have a lot of experience with them, as we used one of the more expensive one, but it could generate jpgs. You may have to ask more insistently to get it in a format you want.

In general, MRI scans are billed at around ~$1000 an hour, and I would expect that they wouldn't book you in a block of time less than 30 minutes.
posted by brainmouse at 6:08 PM on August 10, 2011

Yeah, I also want to assume that this is not being paid for or subsidized by insurance.

And I would hope that if you asked them for the 3D files you would be able to do more than just view them. I want to really get in there and tweak some things, so that is a must.

I'm glad I'm not the only one :)
posted by darkgroove at 6:09 PM on August 10, 2011

In general, MRI scans are billed at around ~$1000 an hour...

That's the list price for medically necessary MRIs. There are lots of privately-owned standalone imaging clinics that have sprung up over the last dozen years. Depending on your location, there could be lots of spare capacity. I'd just call places up and see if you can find someone who's willing to bargain. I'd bet that you could get something for much much less than the list price.
posted by alms at 6:12 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have read that MRIs are both popular and very cheap in Japan, and are seen as more of a consumer good than something ordered by a doctor. As such, they may also be more willing to provide user-friendly results. Here is a story for you.
posted by alexei at 6:13 PM on August 10, 2011

I have done this on myself... sort of. Actually, a more difficult version of this-- I made a 3-d reconstruction of my brain using an MRI* and a piece of software called BrainVisa.

* I was able to do this only because there was a point where I was both participating in fMRI research and professionally collaborating with those fMRI researchers, so they gave me my scan. You'll find that if you participate in research, labs might be possessive about their research property -- i.e., your scans -- because they paid a lot for them. If they do give them away (e.g., to other labs) they tend to get collaborator credit on the study. You might luck out, though, and find a generous research assistant who's willing to "lose" a copy of your MRI on a CD in your hands.

Okay. So now that you have the CD, you'll find that your scan isn't a bunch of JPEG slices. It'll be a DICOM image. The 3-d reconstruction software might be able to take a DICOM as-is, or you might need to convert it using MRIcro or MRIconvert.

As for 3-d reconstruction: BrainVisa MIGHT be able to strip it down to just your skull (I know it does really creepy "whole head" meshes where you can see eyes and nose and ears); you'd have to do a lot of tinkering. There are commercial software packages that do this, but your best bet is to search around for freeware tools that allow you to "strip away" layers of the head. Basically, on each slice you erase layers you don't want and it makes a 3-d model with the remaining voxels. The names escape me at the moment. (Osirix might do it, or FSLview. My lab uses both of those to locate intracranial electrodes in combined MRI/CT scans in three dimensions.)

Hope this helps.
posted by supercres at 6:36 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

To answer your last question: you will find it very difficult to pay someone to do this for you. This isn't a service that folks do. People who take money don't have the time or expertise in all likelihood. Not many medical doctors are going to have the know-how either. If you don't want to do it yourself, your best best is to get a head MRI or CT and find a really nerdy radiologist or radiographer to become best friends with and play around with your scan. Alternatively, if you can get me that DICOM, or if you're around Philadelphia, let me know and I'll see what I can do to help.
posted by supercres at 6:45 PM on August 10, 2011

Thank you supercres! Right now I have no questions for you other than the key items at hand. Tomorrow I'm going to call my local MRI place and run through a list of questions pertaining to this. After all that is said and done... you will most likely be getting a message from me.
posted by darkgroove at 6:56 PM on August 10, 2011

Before you pay anyone for a scan, please call your closest university that does open-enrollment normal-control fMRI research to see if you can get a spot in their studies. You're looking for the neurology, human neuroscience, cognitive psychology, cognitive science or cognitive neuroscience departments. That's also your best hope for finding a nerdy lab tech who's willing to learn new 3-d reconstruction software.
posted by supercres at 7:21 PM on August 10, 2011

You can check out this similar question.

Don't get a elective CT scan, since it's ionizing (harmful) radiation. A MRI won't show bone as nicely as a CT, but you can get something. You might be able to ask for an "isotropic acquisition"; this is where the resolution in all three dimensions are the same. This is better for reconstruction to a 3d mesh, which is what you are looking for (I think). OsiriX is a very good program for looking at DICOM data, but it is only available for Mac OS X.

If you're willing to get a 3d model of your brain instead, MRI will be ideal. I could make a 3d model of a brain from MRI images of a head very easily.
posted by demiurge at 7:23 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Easy peasy.

You don't state location in your profile but check out local research Universities. Lots of studies asking for volunteers to do fMRI/MRI/whatever scans as "control subjects."

Both times I've done it (paid both times, $50 and $15 for a couple of hours in the scanner) I've gotten a CD containing software for viewing the stacked scan images; there are sliders for zooming in and out and pan/rotate.

Wouldn't be hard to make an animated gif from the individual images. There are commercial software for finer control of displaying the inside of your head in flybys.
posted by porpoise at 7:47 PM on August 10, 2011

So it sounds like I can certainly get a scan (in one way or another) that would result in me having some sort of 3D files of my head/skull. It also sounds like I could get that data and pull it into a CAD type of program (even if it required some converting).

Once I figure out where to get a scan, I'll have to let you all know how this goes.
posted by darkgroove at 7:53 PM on August 10, 2011

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