Background: Embryology is a complex morphologic discipline involving a set of entangled mechanisms, sometime difficult to understand and to visualize. Recent computer based techniques ranging from geometrical to physically based modeling are used to assist the visualization and the simulation of virtual humans for numerous domains such as surgical simulation and learning. On the other side, the ontology-based approach applied to knowledge representation is more and more successfully adopted in the life-science domains to formalize biological entities and phenomena, thanks to a declarative approach for expressing and reasoning over symbolic information. 3D models and ontologies are two complementary ways to describe biological entities that remain largely separated. Indeed, while many ontologies providing a unified formalization of anatomy and embryology exist, they remain only descriptive and make the access to anatomical content of complex 3D embryology models and simulations difficult.
Results: In this work, we present a novel ontology describing the development of the human embryology deforming 3D models. Beyond describing how organs and structures are composed, our ontology integrates a procedural description of their 3D representations, temporal deformation and relations with respect to their developments. We also created inferences rules to express complex connections between entities. It results in a unified description of both the knowledge of the organs deformation and their 3D representations enabling to visualize dynamically the embryo deformation during the Carnegie stages. Through a simplified ontology, containing representative entities which are linked to spatial position and temporal process information, we illustrate the added-value of such a declarative approach for interactive simulation and visualization of 3D embryos.
Conclusions: Combining ontologies and 3D models enables a declarative description of different embryological models that capture the complexity of human developmental anatomy. Visualizing embryos with 3D geometric models and their animated deformations perhaps paves the way towards some kind of hypothesis-driven application. These can also be used to assist the learning process of this complex knowledge.