Welcome to my colon: A tech pioneer turns to virtual reality to guide his own surgery

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Photo - STAT NewsSpend enough time with Larry Smarr and, chances are, he’ll invite you to step inside his colon.

Like more than a million Americans, Smarr has inflammatory bowel disease. Unlike most, he also runs a cutting-edge institute replete with reams of ultrafast computers, crack graphics programmers, a towering wall of digital screens and a pitch-black virtual reality cave — all the better to summon up a digital 3-D version of himself that he calls “Transparent Larry.” Among its features is a larger-than-life replica of his colon that includes every nook, cranny, and section of inflamed tissue.

Smarr, 69, is a physicist widely recognized for his work on creating the national network of campus supercomputers that evolved into today’s internet. Now, he runs a futuristic institute called Calit2, housed on the University of California campuses in San Diego and Irvine, that works to advance a host of fields, including medicine. For the last decade, he’s been turning technology on to himself to quantify his body’s most intimate workings, with no clear idea where the experiment might lead.

By Usha Lee McFarling | STAT News

Image Credit: Jurgen Schulze, UC San Diego

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