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Digital surgery with touch feedback could improve medical training

Troy, N.Y. " Combining the sense of touch with 3-D computer models of organs, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are developing a new approach to training surgeons, much as pilots learn to fly on flight simulators. With collaborators at Harvard Medical School, Albany Medical Center, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the team is developing a virtual simulator that will allow surgeons to touch, feel, and manipulate computer-generated organs with actual tool handles used in minimally invasive surgery (MIS).

MIS allows doctors to perform operations through small incisions with long, slender instruments and video cameras, which can result in minimal postoperative pain, less blood loss, lower risk of complications, and a shorter hospital stay. The number of MIS procedures has grown dramatically in recent years, but despite its many advantages, the technique deprives surgeons of the depth perception, dexterity, sense of touch, and hand-eye coordination that they are accustomed to in open surgeries.

The most important single factor that determines the success of a surgical procedure is the skill of the surgeon, said Suvranu De, assistant professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering and director of the Advanced Computational Research Lab at Rensselaer. It is therefore not surprising, he notes, that more people die each year from medical errors in hospitals than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS, according to a 2000 report by the Institute of Medicine.

De and his colleagues at Rensselaer are seeking to improve surgical training by developing a new type of virtual simulator. Based on the science of haptics " the study of sensing through touch " the new simulator will provide an immersive environment for surgeons to touch, feel, and manipulate computer-generated 3-D tissues and organs with tool handles used in actual surgery. Such a simulator could standardize the assessment of surgical
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Contact: Jason Gorss
gorssj@rpi.edu
518-276-6098
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
11-Aug-2006


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