Laparoscopic gastric banding is a common surgical treatment for morbid obesity and the most critical factor in the success of the operation lies in the hands of the surgeon – who needs the proficiency and skill to insert slender, handheld tools into the body of the patient. A team of interdisciplinary researchers, led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has recently won a US$2.3 million federal grant to develop a touch-sensitive virtual reality simulator that will realistically replicate how performing a gastric band operation feels – making it ideal for developing and teaching fundamental surgical skills and for assessing physicians wanting to be certified as a laparoscopic surgeon.
Being proficient at using remote control tools to perform minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures is critical in successfully performing laparoscopic surgery. Although there are only a handful of basic tasks needed to successfully perform the operation – for example tying knots, cutting in very specific patterns and stitching – becoming skilled in these surgical techniques takes time and practice. This new testing and training system that uses haptic technology – or touch feedback – will allow surgeons to practice and refine the surgical skills needed to perform a laparoscopic procedure in their own virtual operating theater.
“We want to give surgeons the best tools possible, so they can better hone their skills and successfully treat their patients,” said project leader De. “Just as training on virtual reality simulators has shown to be highly effective for jet pilots, we know that physicians show increased success in surgery the more times they perform it. We’re creating new tools that make it easier than ever for them to practice. These same tools will also be used in certification tests to make sure surgeons have all the required skills mastered before they start operating on patients.”
De said his team expects that the new system will eventually change the way of surgical education and assessment. The virtual reality simulator could test users against board-certified standards – maybe eventually over the Internet. After the development of the system the team will test and validate its usefulness as a training tool at the Carl J. Shapiro Simulation and Skills Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
De is working with Professor Daniel B. Jones from Harvard Medical School and human factors engineering expert Caroline G. L. Cao, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University.
See Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for more information.
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