It’s marvellous how many different doors the world of three-dimensional simulations has opened for professionals in practicing and improving their skills.
A pilot logs in hundreds of hours of simulation training at flight school before serving as your pilot on commercial flights. Even the US Military is now attempting to train ground assault teams by using 3-D simulations and Virtual Technology. All this training and practice assures the recipients of these services that the professionals behind the tools are the best in the job, and well-suited for the task.
It seems unreasonable, though, to assume that we would ever be able to create simulations of highly specialized and complicated surgical procedures that would let doctors take “practice runs” before carrying out the actual procedure. Researchers at Stanford University, however, do not seem to think so. In fact, they are attempting to use scanning techniques to build interactive 3-D training simulations personalized to the patient’s anatomy. This simulation would allow a surgeon to practice and perfect a surgical procedure on the patient’s own unique body system, and account for all the specific peculiarities of the individual’s anatomy – all of which is knowledge possibly crucial to a successful outcome.
The project, called the Stanford Rhino logical Virtual Surgical Environment (VSE), is currently a demonstration pilot, and uses a mechanical feedback system, which simulates the sense of touch, and combines it with a detailed set of CT scans to create a “digital body double” of the patient. The technology allows doctors who are planning to operate close to critical paths -such as nerves and arteries- to practice moving about these areas before they attempt to do so on the patient.
Many other systems using virtualization technology currently exist; they allow doctors-in-training to learn how movements of surrogate tools look on a screen during a surgical procedure. The VSE system designed by Stanford’s departments of computer science and surgery, however, provides a unique advantage: it adds a sense of feeling and reaction of tissues to the simulation.
The feedback mechanism (referred to as haptic-feedback) used in creating the simulation provides the feeling of a physical object, much like a graphics card renders an image. It does this by processing the three-dimensional forces of the hand, instead of the classic red, green and blue pixels, to produce the feeling of objects like bone, cartridge or tumours. As the surgeon practices his procedure (using stylus tools), the simulation mimics the feel of the underlying cartilage or bone.
VSE will enter clinical trials over the next couple of years.