Augmented Reality And Surgery
November 12, 2013

Augmented Reality And Surgery

Before long, augmented reality may become a part of our daily lives. I can still recall a time when I was using dial-up Internet connections, listening to CDs on my portable CD player or Walkman, and even writing letters. Now it almost hard to imagine living without instant and constant access to the Internet via a smartphone or other device. I tend to listen to online streaming services or my own MP3s instead of CDs, and thanks to text messaging, email, and Skype, I have little need to ever sit down with a pen and paper to write someone. Technology is always growing, always changing, and always helping to define us as a culture. This extends to every aspect of our lives, from how we travel, to how we relax, how we work and play, and even in how our doctors take care of us. On the horizon of innovation sits augmented reality. You have to wonder how our lives will change once it becomes more widely available.

On September 12, 2013, a team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham performed the first augmented reality-assisted surgery using Google Glass and VIPAAR. The Google Glass is a headband computer with an optical heads-up display (HUD). VIPAAR, or Virtual Interactive Presence in Augmented Reality, is a UAB-developed system designed to provide real-time, two-way, interactive video conferencing. What this allowed is for Dr. Brent Ponce to perform a shoulder replacement surgery in UAB Highlands Hospital in Birmingham while a colleague, Dr. Phani Dantuluri, assisted from his office in Atlanta. While Dr. Ponce wore the Google Glass system, Dr. Dantuluri could see everything Dr. Ponce saw, and could then not only provide auditory assistance, but could also create augmented reality objects to act as guidelines, much like how you can see the marks drawn on a football field to mark things like first-down during a televised game. The audience can see the line, but it is not actually there on the football field, nor were they drawn on the body of the patient. Dr. Ponce would see these, as well as Dr. Dantuluri’s hands, as ghostly three dimensional objects as he worked, enabling Dr. Dantuluri to have a virtual hands-on with the patient.

VIPAAR, the system that made all of this possible, was created by UBA neurosurgeon Barton Guthrie, who had grown disillusioned with the currently existing state of telemedicine. According to Dr. Guthrie, “So called ‘telemedicine’ was little more than a telephone call between two physicians. A surgeon in a small, regional hospital might call looking for guidance on a difficult procedure – one that perhaps I’d done a hundred times but he’d only done once or twice. How advantageous to the patient would it be if we could get our hands and instruments virtually into the field of a surgeon who has skills and training and lacks only experience?” Thanks to all of his work, that is now possible.

Dr. Ponce and Dr. Dantuluri were both said to be pleased with how the VIPAAR system worked, and though the system will need some fine tuning, expectations for it are high. This could be yet another step forward in the advancement of modern medical practices, which in turn could help improve the lives of countless people all around the world.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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