Versions is the essential guide to virtual reality and beyond. It investigates the rapidly deteriorating boundary between the real world and the one behind the screen. Versions launched in 2016 at the eponymous conference dedicated to creativity and VR with the New Museum’s incubator NEW INC.

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Thanks to VR, brain surgery is now a little easier

Thanks to VR, brain surgery is now a little easier

Brain surgery is one of the riskiest types of surgery one can have. Blood clotting, brain swelling, seizures, in addition to nearly a dozen other complications, can make a potentially life-saving surgery for something like removing a tumor go terribly awry. After all, there’s a reason why we say simple tasks aren’t rocket science and brain surgery—it’s because they’re among the most confounding specializations in the world. But thanks to VR, brain surgery may have just gotten a little bit easier to navigate.

Deterring the risk of a grave error

Ushering in Surgical Theater’s Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (also known as SNAP), a new technology designed by former Israeli Blackhawk pilots that has the ability to reconstruct a patient’s anatomy using computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The reconstructions are then explorable through a computer, or via a head-mounted display (HMD) or VR headset such as the Oculus Rift. In an interview with Medical Research, Dr. Alfred Marc Calo Iloreta, noted that the technology gives neurosurgeons an additional sense of sureness before even making an incision, thus deterring the risk of a grave error. “We can actually ‘fly’ thru and around the tumor so I can get very familiar with the anatomy,” explained Iloreta.

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Louis told UploadVR that before the SNAP, neurosurgeons were resigned to only using slices of what was perceived to be a patient’s brain—2D, rather than the SNAP’s fully-explorable 3D. It not only eases the process of brain surgery for neurosurgeons, but it saves lives as well—like that of Marcus Barnes, who suffered from a brain tumor. Before Barnes’s impending surgery, Louis discovered that an optic nerve would have gotten in the way of his original plan. “We changed the approach and we did a small incision behind the hairline instead,” Louis told UploadVR. “We made this change before even touching the patient and we were able to get the entire tumor out successfully.”

"Fly through to get a close up view of important vessels," urges a video demonstration.
“Fly through to get a close-up view of important vessels,” urges a video demonstration.

At the moment, there are only 10 hospitals implementing Surgical Theater’s technology. But the possibility of discovering potentially deadly problems before they even arise within surgery, could change the surgical industry as we know it. SNAP not only helps practicing neurosurgeons and current patients, but it’s being used to train aspiring brain surgeons as well. “Students can see in 20 minutes what has taken neurosurgeons like Dr. Louis 20 years to perfect in his own mind,” said Jim Breidenstein, president and COO of Surgical Theater’s SNAP division. “It can dramatically shorten the learning curve of tomorrow’s surgeons.”

You can read more about SNAP on Surgical Theater’s site.

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