Medtronic taps virtual reality 'flight simulators' for brain surgery, built from 3D patient scans

Surgery
Surgical Theater's technology builds 3D models of an individual patient’s anatomy from CT and MRI scans to offer surgeons an immersive, 360-degree fly-through view. (Pixabay)

Using virtual reality tech described as a fighter-jet flight simulator for the human body, Medtronic hopes to put brain surgeons in the pilot’s seat—giving them patient-specific maps of blood vessels and tissue to explore as they prep for the real thing.

Through a partnership with VR developer Surgical Theater, the medtech giant aims to meld real-time augmented reality technology with its StealthStation S8 surgical navigation platform used to tackle tumors, aneurysms, vessel malformations and other conditions.

The goal is to give neurosurgeons a way to test different approaches virtually before they enter the operating room—as well as to provide a live, 3D rendering, laid on top of the surgical site during brain procedures, to illustrate how close instruments are to reaching dangerous areas.

"SyncAR technology does not stop at planning and navigation; we open the skull, provide surgeons with x-ray vision of the anatomy and play an integral role throughout the operative workflow," Surgical Theater’s co-founder and CEO, Moty Avisar, said in a statement.

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The company’s team is no stranger to situational awareness: Avisar is a former officer and flight simulator expert for the Israeli Air Force, where he helped manage the engineering behind virtual training programs for F-16 fighter pilots. Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Alon Geri served as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and chief software engineer for the IAF’s flight simulator team.

Now, their technology builds 3D models of an individual patient’s anatomy from CT and MRI scans to offer surgeons an immersive, 360-degree view.

Medtronic aims to synchronize these tools, which have been used in more than 1,500 procedures so far, with its StealthStation navigation system and microscope-based optics to highlight important arteries and delicate white matter in a heads-up display.

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The work could help complement Medtronic’s acquisition early last year of Digital Surgery, the U.K.-based developer of artificial intelligence and video education programs for the operating room. This, in turn, would dovetail with the company’s broader digital hardware and robotics efforts, including its upcoming Hugo platform.

In 2019, Medtronic’s previous CEO, Omar Ishrak, said the company would look to apply computer-guided surgery, planning tools and robotics in “virtually every area” where it has a procedural presence.