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A surgeon creates 3D medical simulator from video game concept

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The most technologically creative advancement since the 1990’s has physicians at the University of Minnesota using virtual-reality simulators more and more to perfect their surgical techniques, reports the Star Tribune Minneapolis today.

This is made possible by working with local medical device companies to develop new generations of software to train the next generation of medical students from cases involving enlarged prostates to brain tumors.

‘The researchers hope to build anatomical models so lifelike that medical residents will get hands-on experience and learn from their mistakes without harming patients’, said Dr. Robert M. Sweet, director of the U's Medical School Simulation Programs.

‘Have you ever seen a pitcher not warm up before their first pitch, or a musician not warm up before they go on stage? Never!’ Sweet said. ‘Why would a surgeon be any different?’

To increase efficiency for surgical teams a 2011 study using a virtual reality trainer for laparoscopic surgery found a ‘hangover effect’ -- degraded performance by surgeons who had drunk to the point of intoxication the night before an operation.

Due to this opportunity to create a real situation for a surgical procedure, the University and medical device partners are becoming leaders worldwide in this exciting new step.

The U developed the software, for example, for American Medical Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn., company that built a simulator for urology cases, which is being adopted globally. And it is among just 10 centers worldwide whose residents are working to refine their neurosurgery skills with a device under development by the Canada National Research Council.

Dr. Sweet got the idea for simulators during his third year of residency learning prostrate surgery at the University of Washington. Due to the video games he saw, he was led to ask why not apply simulated 3D video game to learning surgery before taking the first step on a live patient.

Sweet dropped by the school's Human Interface Technology lab and they built one

When a patient dies, we are able to harvest little bits of tissue, not whole organs. We rapidly run through tests, mechanical electrical, thermal and optical to understand the object, states Sweet. We now have a new option in 3D simulation.

Dr. Sweet oversees the U’s training center, called SimPORTAL, and its research unit. An assistant professor, Yunhe Shen, a biomedical engineer, is in charge of developing algorithms that provide users with instant feedback that mimics what surgeons would feel and see if operating on a live patient.

David Hananel, associate director of the medical school's simulation programs, views the time required to obtain money for the different program will be a 10 year plan. U won an $11.2 million contract to research combat-medicine simulators and training methods.

This is a project of magnitude but the technology exists. Time and money can bring it to reality.­­

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