Neurosurgeons Step Inside Their Patients’ Brains Using Oculus Rift and 3D Virtual Reality Gaming Technology

WASHINGTON — (BUSINESS WIRE) — May 1, 2015 — It is not just a game anymore as UCLA neurosurgeons slip on Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets used in gaming to be transported inside their patients’ brains. The  UCLA Department of Neurosurgery is collaborating with  Surgical Theater LLC to integrate the Oculus Rift with Surgical Theater's 3D surgery navigation device called SNAP. The navigation virtual reality scene is built based on patients’ specific CT and MRI scans, providing the potential for the surgeon to enter the virtual brain, examine the brain tumor or aneurysm, and plan the surgical strategy and operative steps. This promises to improve precision and surgical outcomes while decreasing surgical time.

Dr. Neil Martin, Chairman of the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, will premiere the new, innovative Oculus Surgical Theater, at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) Annual Meeting starting on Monday, May 4, 2015, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Oculus Rift technology is being used in the medical arena—for brain surgery.

Just as the military pilots enter flight simulators, likewise athletes, and now neurosurgeons are using Oculus Rift to improve performance. Over the last several months, Dr. Martin and his team have been employing Oculus Surgical Theater, which combines a 3D virtual reality surgical navigation with the Oculus Rift headset. Utilizing Oculus Rift’s accurate stereoscopic 3D views as well as its excellent depth, scale and parallax of the brain, Dr. Martin dons the Oculus Rift headset. He enters and interacts within the anatomy of the brain to see not only the brain tumor or aneurysm, but also every connected vessel and structure.

“Using the Oculus Surgical Theater is an immersive experience; you are standing there and facing the tumor, moving your head so you can see behind, to the left and right, so you can see the vessel that is covering the tumor from a certain angle or direction,” said Dr. Martin. “The virtual experience is similar to touring a house, after a few minutes of ‘being there,’ your memory is equipped so you know exactly where the front door, back door and garage are. It translates to superior situational awareness and navigation capabilities inside the patient’s brain.”

This innovative, visual representation of a patient’s brain is potentially key to ensuring a successful surgery before the first incision is even made. By employing this new technology, surgeons will be able to examine the best ways to protect and preserve areas that control motor and language function, depending on the location of the tumor or aneurysm. The Oculus Surgical Theater is expected to improve microsurgery, such as when Dr. Martin is operating through a microscope and a keyhole, dime-sized incision on structures that are often only just a few millimeters in size.

"This sensation is too real to be coined ‘virtual’- you really need to convince yourself that it is not real, it feels very, very real,” said Moty Avisar, CEO of Surgical Theater. “With the Oculus Surgical Theater technology, you are ‘virtually’ there, and the experience is burned in your memory as if you were actually ‘there.’”

Avisar adds: “While minimally invasive approaches have been found to be superior in their outcome, the surgical navigation through minimally invasive approaches limits the surgeon’s ‘maneuverability and visibility.’ By giving the surgeon a means in which to ‘fly through,’ around and behind the tumor, we enable the surgeon to see much more in order to gain an enhanced situational awareness that is very important in microsurgery cases.”

Research on virtual reality conducted at Stanford University found that the brain absorbed spatial details 33 percent more effectively in immersive VR than from video alone. Much like how a professional athlete practices to increase their performance, the Oculus Surgical Theater gives surgeons the ability to virtually plan a surgery tactic on brain tissue and blood vessels that look just like those inside the brain, all while building a strong foundation of situational awareness and memory for the surgeon.

“Every patient is unique, so being able to virtually see and study the structure of each individual brain tumor, or aneurysm, prior to and during surgery will increase our confidence and precision during the most complex neurosurgical procedures. I believe it will decrease operative time, and improve surgical outcomes for our patients,” Dr. Martin said.

The Oculus Surgical Theater is under final testing at UCLA and will be evaluated in surgeries in the coming weeks.

Dr. Martin will introduce the Oculus Surgical Theater to his peers and to the media during the AANS meeting, which will take place in Washington D.C. from May 4 to May 6. Following its debut, Oculus Surgical Theater will be offered to a selective group of Surgical Theater Centers of Excellence around the country and will be utilized for brain surgeries in those centers.

About Surgical Theater

Since it obtained FDA clearance in 2013, Surgical Theater 3D navigation and planning technology has been utilized in more than 700 cranial cases nationwide.

Surgical Theater’s line of products includes the SuRgical Planner™ (SRP) and the Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP), which are based on 3D imaging technology that allows surgeons to perform a real-time “fly through” and navigation in brain surgeries. The SuRgical Planner (SRP) is utilized as a 3D planning platform to optimize approaches to the pathology for keyhole and other minimally invasive techniques.

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