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Virtual Reality Simulations For Neurosurgery Training

Medically reviewed by Ramin AmirNovin, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on February 16, 2023

Neurosurgery is a field so enormously complex that “it’s not brain surgery” has become a standard turn of phrase for anything that is not extremely complicated. The pitfalls are so many and various they can be nearly impossible to list, and training for it isn’t much easier. Recent advances in virtual reality have started to change that, and show a promising future where prospective surgeons can get realistic practice with no materials expended or patients endangered. 


What Will Virtual Reality Neurosurgery Training Look Like? 


Virtual reality surgical trainers will compile data from CT, MRI, and other scans of the brain into a full-color, three-dimensional model of the patient. Prospective surgeons can be introduced to this virtual operating theater and execute the procedure multiple times on the exact anatomy of the patient, rather than having to use a textbook or two-dimensional pictures to guess at the particulars of the procedure. 


The surgeon can also exit their first-person view and ‘fly’ through the patient’s anatomy to get a closer look at the relevant portion of the brain, allowing for an otherwise impossibly close inspection even while the surgery is underway. Both training for surgery and inspection during the operation can now be accomplished with zero risk to the patient and faster than it could ever have been done in the real world. 


Do These Simulations Help Anyone Besides The Surgeon?


Two main groups besides the actual surgeons being trained benefit from the greater use of virtual reality in neurosurgery training. The first of these are those training the surgeons, who will find themselves free of the considerable constraints posed by trying to train a surgeon in the real world. With no need to worry about liability or availability of test subjects, training can proceed much faster and with fewer precautions; instead of waiting for a patient on whom to demonstrate a procedure, professors will be able to call up a recorded procedure and allow students to  attempt it themselves, even several times over. Teachers will also be able to introduce new elements to the operating theater at will; these may not have happened in the original procedure but are crucial for the surgeon to be able to handle as soon as they arise. 


Patients will also benefit from these simulations. By being able to see ‘first hand’ what their disorder looks like and how their procedure will be carried out, patients will be able to make more informed decisions about their health care. A simulation can also help turn a lengthy and complex verbal explanation of a procedure into a visual experience, which can help bridge both age and language barriers between surgeon and patient. Downloaded into a removable media device such as a thumb drive or SD card, the simulation allows the patient to review the procedure without a doctor or show it to family members to allay any concerns they might have. 


Written by Shlomo Witty

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