Jessica Vermeer
12 March

The Imec research group at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is developing technology that projects medical scans on the body of patients in real time during surgery. Using augmented reality (AR), the 3D models are shown in the exact place of operation, allowing for more precision. Also, the AR technology can be used to train medical students.

Generally, surgeons use MR or CT scans that are projected on a screen during an operation. This means that they have to divide their attention between the screen and the patient. The Imec.icon project Sara is now looking at using AR to give 3D images of these scans that overlap with the patients, helping surgeons to keep their eyes on them. The goal is to improve upon computer-supported surgery and to decrease cognitive pressure on the doctors.

Credit: VUB/Johnny Duerinck

An example of using the headset could be making a tumor visible within a patient’s skull, even before an incision has been made. This may help a surgeon to choose the perfect location for entering and to avoid critical parts of the body. A person wearing the headset can still walk around the room and look at the model from different angles. In addition to this, the images are live-streamed to an external monitor, allowing outsiders to see what the headset sees.

Professor Jef Vandemeulebroucke, one of the researchers involved, says that the precision while using an AR headset for surgery obviously needs to be way higher than in AR used in games and media. He adds: “Several challenges remain before this technology can be applied efficiently, such as ease of use and smooth integration into the clinical workflow. For example, in view of sterility, there should be no manual interaction with the spectacles application. The hologram shown shouldn’t cause any occlusion of the hands or tools if this occurs in the line of sight. And finally: what information do we show and how? It’s important to always show relevant and up-to-date information about the patient’s anatomy and surgical planning, but an overload of information must, of course, be avoided.”