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AR project to help train surgeons on ‘hyper-real’ models of organs

27 July 2021

A Scottish consortium is set to use augmented reality (AR) software to help train surgeons on hyper-real 3D-printed models of human organs.

The software will guide trainee surgeons as they perform “surgery” on the lifelike models and will be used in the UK and less developed areas of the world.

Project partners are working with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) to deliver the immersive technology, which will remove barriers to training by allowing surgeons to practice vital lifesaving skills at home.   

The consortium includes industry-lead Organlike, which has produced the models of organs, along with NHS Highland, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Vivolution, KWWK Ltd, 4c Engineering and Aseptium. 

Backed by funding from the Innovate UK Sustainable Innovation Fund, they have already distributed 160 kits to the UK and Africa, consisting of 3D-printed bio-synthetic organs, real surgical instruments, and a mobile phone holder. 

Accessible via a smartphone app, augmented reality technology is used to scan physical models of organs made from hyper-realistic aqua gel, designed to mimic the texture of human tissue. This scan generates a digital representation of the organ, which is displayed on the trainee’s phone and provides instructions that feedback when a procedure is successfully completed. Trainees can also film their work for review from experienced surgical trainers.

As well as helping train surgeons in the UK, the technology can help medical professionals in less developed areas of the world where training facilities are scarce or non-existent. Kits have already been delivered to three countries in Africa, with discussions ongoing for other territories around the globe.

The project is particularly valuable in the current climate, removing the need for trainees to rely on classroom cadavers to perfect their skills, a resource that has become scarce during the pandemic. 

Danny McMahon, Digital and Metrology Lead at the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland, said: “Our software works along with Organlike’s hyper-real models to provide guidance and training, as well as feedback on performance. While there is no replacement for the real thing, we can help prepare trainees for taking the next step in their training.

“Although coronavirus restrictions are lifting, we expect there to be an increasing demand for a more flexible approach to surgical training going forward. The application for this technology extends far beyond Scotland and although it’s still relatively early days for the project we are already excited about its potential.”

Professor Will Shu, Founder and Director of Organlike, said: “Augmented reality is the perfect complementary technology to accompany our models and this partnership is really exciting. With in-person learning limited by restrictions on access to facilities and resources, this technology could help trainee surgeons who can’t currently access facilities to work in their own space. Our hope is that our product will form an important part of future training programmes across the world.”

Professor Angus Watson, Member of the Council of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, said: “Surgical simulation represents the future for our profession. The public expect us to uphold the highest standards of surgical skill and care and the College has been at the forefront of this for over 500 years. I am particularly proud that we can make training opportunities equitable across the globe and I am delighted that this kit will be available both in Scotland and in Africa.”


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