Aug. 1 - Forget scrubbing up, a new virtual surgery simulator uses the latest computer technology to train surgeons for laproscopic surgery, dramatically decreasing the need for practice on human patients. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: This may look like a video game, but its actually a new tool that could revolutionize the way doctors train for the operating room. It's called the VBLAST and it's a virtual surgery simulator, developed by Rensselear Polytechnic Institute's Suvranu De. The simulator uses touch feedback to help doctors develop the fine motor skills needed for laproscopic surgery, a common weight loss procedure. De says the hi-tech training tool provides an experience that is as authentic as practicing in the operating room, but eliminates potential harm to patients. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SUVRANU DE, PROFESSOR AND DIRECTOR OF CENTER FOR MODELLING, SIMULATION AND IMAGING AT RENSSELEAR POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE, SAYING: "These are all done now by trial and error on models or on animals and humans, using patients as guinea pigs. The number of people the surgeon takes to learn a certain surgery is of the order of anywhere between 50-100. That many patients are typically at risk when a surgical procedure is learned in the operating room." The virtual surgery simulator uses touch feedback, which realistically replicates the sensations a surgeon would feel when performing the procedure. In its early stages, the device used two forceps to pick up blocks that had the same resistance that organs and tissue would have. In its latest form however, students look at lifelike graphic versions of the esophagus, stomach and spleen, and highly sophisticated algorhythms create sounds and visuals that alert doctors when making mistakes. The RPI team have been collaborating on the simulator with a team of doctors and surgical residents at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Dr. Neil Kantack, a first year surgical resident, has tested both generations of the simulator. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. NEIL KANTACK, FIRST YEAR SURGICAL RESIDENT AT BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER SAYING: "You have real life feedback when you grasp a block you can feel the amount of resistance in your hands change. Your can understand it -- your hands feel it your brain can sense it. In the new version there are no actual blocks. Instead there is a screen with virtual blocks and the device uses feedback technology to simulate that resistance so that you feel like you are actually performing the physical activity on an object that doesn't really exist." Ultimately researchers say the V-Blast will give patients more confidence in their doctors before going under the knife because they are able to use the simulator to recognize deficiencies and get extra practice. Dr. Steven Schwaitzberg, president of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) says virtual technologies like the V-Blast are revolutionizing training for surgical students. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. STEVEN SCHWAITZBERG, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SURGERY AT BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER AND PRESIDENT OF THE SOCIETY OF AMERICAN GASTROINTESTINAL AND ENDOSCOPIC SURGEONS SAYING: "I believe that we will figure out a way to model a body in the virtual world and then we will be able to do ... just like the pilots, the first 10-25% of your training all virtually so that you walk into your early operations with a degree of competency that hasn't been seen before in the history of surgery." With technologies like the V-Blast, practice really can make perfect. Sharon Reich, Reuters