Brain surgery simulator in Austria improves neurosurgical training and patient safety
Neuroscientists and software engineers at Kepler University Hospital in Linz, Austria developed a brain surgery simulator that received overwhelming approval from the hospital’s neurosurgeons. The system is able to simulate complicated surgery for dangerous bulges in arteries and could be a tool in training neurosurgeons. Results of a study on the simulator were published in the international journal World Neurosurgery. (Read about a similar tool developed in Australia we wrote about earlier this year called a smart needle. It’s actually a tiny imaging probe, encased within a brain biopsy needle, that lets surgeons ‘see’ at-risk blood vessels as they insert the needle, allowing them to avoid causing bleeds that can potentially be fatal.)
The collaboration of the neuroscientists and software engineers, according to Prof. Andreas Gruber, Chairman of the hospital’s Department of Neurosurgery, “has, for the first time ever, enabled us to simulate arterial wall movement and real blood flow with a very high degree of realism. These two factors are crucial for successfully treating dangerous bulges in arteries known as aneurysms. While correct placement of the clips used to fix aneurysms is highly dependent on arterial wall movement, changes in blood flow are a crucial source of information about the success of the operation.”
But this simulator pushes the innovation envelope, the developers say, and lets trainees use the actual instruments involved in these operations, adding a greater degree of realism than ever before. It also features real-time technology, meaning the encounter between the surgical instrument and arterial wall is computed instantly, with no lag time, thereby matching the chronology of a real operation. “In this way, surgeons can learn under realistic conditions,” notes Gruber. “This is absolutely essential for training and perfecting key skills, such as hand-eye coordination, depth perception and tactile discrimination.”
The simulator was tested by experienced neurosurgeons with an average of over 14 years of neurosurgery experience. The simulations were based on data from actual operations and after using the simulator, 89% of the neurosurgeons reported it improved their anatomical understanding, and 94% would like to see the simulator incorporated into neurosurgery education.
The software system for virtual aneurysm surgery has been under development since 2012 in a joint project between the Department of Neurosurgery and the Institute for Neuroradiology at Kepler University Hospital, in cooperation with RISC Software GmbH in Hagenberg, Austria.