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Head-mounted display could revolutionise spinal surgery

12 October 2015

Researchers have improved the safety and efficiency of a complex surgical procedure for children with the help of wearable technology like Google Glass.

Professor Philip Breedon (left) with postgraduate student Mark Golab
Professor Philip Breedon (left) with postgraduate student Mark Golab

The design, by Nottingham Trent University in collaboration with Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust, allows clinicians to be given crucial surgical information live in theatre via an optical head-mounted display unit during the operation on a child’s spine.
The procedure – a selective dorsal rhizotomy - involves the severing of two-thirds of a nerve root in order to improve the muscle stiffness children with cerebral palsy experience in their limbs.

Currently a surgeon has to perform this operation based on information relayed to him verbally by a colleague on a screen elsewhere in the operating theatre.

But the new design will project the information – which presents how responsive the nerves are – onto the lens of the optical head-mounted display, so he can monitor it while performing the surgery.

The research has been led by Professor Philip Breedon, a professor of smart technologies in Nottingham Trent University’s Design for Health and Wellbeing Research Group in consultation with Professor Michael Vloeberghs, a professor of paediatric neurosurgery and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon at the Nottingham University Hospital.

It was developed by postgraduate student Mark Golab as part of his MSc in Medical Product Design at Nottingham Trent University.

“This design allows a surgeon to analyse crucial data in his line of sight hands free at real time, without the need to look away from the working field of view and communicate across the operating theatre while he’s performing this procedure,” says Mark, who is originally from Cambridge. “This improves the efficiency of this surgical procedure while also allowing the surgeon to have a better understanding of live information which he needs in order to perform the operation.”

A tiny exterior-facing camera on an optical head-mounted display unit will also enable the surgeon’s perspective of the operation to be broadcast live to a third party.

The design recently went on public exhibition at the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment’s Postgraduate Design Exhibition 2015 in Nottingham city centre.

“This a fantastic example of how advances in technology can be applied to help improve critical medical procedures," says Professor Breedon. “By utilising the emergent optical head-mounted display technologies, we’re able to improve how information is relayed to surgeons during a critical operation which is required to improve children’s lives. It’s important that designers continually work with healthcare professionals to consider how advances in technology can help improve surgical procedures and allow surgeons a greater capacity to perform their duties.”

“This is an example of ‘live update’ direct from a monitoring device to the surgeon," says Professor Vloeberghs, who performs selective dorsal rhizotomy operations. "The monitoring information is displayed directly and allows the surgeon to keep sight of the area where the procedure is done rather than looking away to a monitor or having the information relayed second by a technician doing the monitoring. This example proves the feasibility and is a token of the possibilities this technology has in teaching and training, supervision and ‘live’ second opinion in uncommon procedures.”

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