Virtual operating room aims to sharpen surgeon skills

March 1, 2012

A student from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center test the haptically enhanced virtual surgery simulator prototype. (Image courtesy of RPI)

There’s no teacher like experience, even for highly trained physicians and surgeons, so researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are working to develop a next-generation virtual reality operating room. Most surgery simulators today are solely focused on enhancing and assessing a surgeon’s hand movements and motor skills. The new system will go one better by enhancing and assessing the surgeon’s understanding of the overall procedure as well as the cause and effect of his or her actions.

RPI professor Suvranu De’s system, made possible by a $2.7 million NIH grant, will feature touch-sensitive surgical instruments that enable users to feel and manipulate virtual tissues and organs through surgical tool handles used in actual surgery. The system will also include an immersive 3-D headset with highly realistic graphics and a virtual mentor who offers tips, criticisms, visual and auditory cues, and other feedback.

De and his team aim to simulate an emerging, minimally invasive technique known as single-incision laparoscopic surgery for procedures such as gallbladder removal and gastric banding. Rensselaer will partner with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Tufts University in Boston on the project. Once perfected, the simulator should be expandable to other types of surgical procedures.

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