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“Window into the brain” helps surgeons, patients and trainees

A new virtual reality system at Stanford provides an unprecedented peek inside the brain. The immersive technology can help patients understand their conditions, surgeons plan their strategies and trainees master brain anatomy and practice diagnostic and surgical techniques.

"It's a window into the brain — and a window into the brain of the particular patient we're going to operate on," said neurosurgeon Anand Veeravagu, MD, in a Stanford Medicine news article.

The system, developed by Surgical Theater, a Colorado company, provides "much, much more detail," than previous methods, said Gary Steinberg, MD, PhD, chair and professor of surgery. It blends images from MRIs, CT scans and angiograms into a three-dimensional model that can be manipulated. “We can plan out how we can approach a tumor and avoid critical areas like the motor cortex or the sensory areas... Before, we didn’t have the ability to reconstruct it in three dimensions; we’d have to do it in our minds."

The article explains how a team of residents recently used the technology:

For the residents, class is held in a room in the hospital basement. Under low lighting, and surrounded by three massive screens, the residents settle into reclining chairs complete with drink holders — all promising a comfortable ride inside the human skull.

Once the residents don headsets, an instructor — who shows up as an avatar in a white coat — can lead them inside the brain of a patient. The system allows instructors to highlight different components of the brain, such as arteries to show an aneurysm, bones to show skull deformities or tissue to show a tumor, while rotating the view to illustrate how a tumor or aneurysm looks from different angles. They can also progress, as avatars, through the steps for removing a tumor or fixing an aneurysm, starting outside the skull.

And for patients, the system can provide reassurance and insight into their conditions or procedures. "This software really helps them understand what it is they are about to undergo," said Veeravagu "Seeing it on the screen, in 3-D, really helps put a patient’s mind at ease."

Previously: Pediatric cardiologists bring virtual reality to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, New virtual reality display adjusts for differences in vision and New Stanford-developed technology bypasses "virtual reality sickness"
Photo by Paul Sakuma

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