Rensselaer receives NIH grant to develop virtual surgery simulator

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute a $347,000, two-year grant to develop a next-generation simulator to train surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgery. The grant awarded to Assistant Professor Suvranu De supports efforts to improve the realism of existing training by adding touch simulation and upgraded graphics.

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is performed through natural body openings or small, keyhole incisions with the aid of a thin, rod-shaped probe, a small scope, and surgical instruments. Reduced trauma and shorter hospital stays have contributed to the popularity of MIS. Yet the difficult operating conditions leave surgeons with restricted vision and mobility and limited hand-eye coordination, which they must overcome by developing a keen sense of touch.

A virtual reality-based surgery simulator would allow surgeons to practice manipulating computer-generated 3-D models of human organs using their sense of touch as well as vision. Such a simulator can avert the need for cadavers and animals currently used for training, resulting eventually in highly customized training.

"The sense of touch plays a fundamental role in the performance of a surgeon," De said. "Current simulator technology can be significantly improved with the addition of touch feedback. I believe better simulator training will substantially reduce operating room errors, reduce tissue damage, speed recovery, and lead to better patient outcomes."

Surgery simulators, much like flight simulators, are based on intense computer programming. To program realism of touch feedback from a surgical probe navigating through soft tissue, De must develop efficient computer models that perform 30 times faster than real-time graphics. This requires a mathematical model that summarizes all the forces at play as simply as possible.

De has developed a novel computational technique, the Point-Associated Finite Field

Contact: Robert Pini
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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