Inspired By Israeli Air Force Simulators, Former Pilots Develop 3D Brain Simulator for Surgeons
For decades, pilots have practiced for combat missions using flight simulators. Now, brain surgeons are adopting a similar ritual, using flight simulation technology during both rehearsal for and practice of complex microsurgical procedures.
Surgical Theater, founded by former Israeli Air Force officers Alon Geri and Moty Avisar in 2010, developed a revolutionary brain surgery simulation method for doctors. Much like a flight simulator, Surgical Theater helps surgeons with pre-operative and intra-operative surgery preparation, making sure that doctors are fully briefed and prepared before embarking on complex surgical procedures.
Non-Invasive Brain Navigation System Helps to Remove Tumors
Preparation is crucial; nearly 70,000 new cases of brain tumors will be diagnosed in the US next year, 4,600 of them in children, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.
Previous simulators in the medical field were designed for training and teaching, but Surgical Theater takes simulation to a new level of planning and rehearsal. Geri and Avisar have come up with a simulator that enables brain surgeons to rehearse on 3D holograms (images) before actually performing complex procedures, such as removing cancerous tumors and treating aneurysms, on the patient.
In addition to rehearsal of complex surgeries, Surgical Theater provides an advanced feature called “fusion,” which combines medical scans and data to create a single, personalized, 3D model. There are two separate simulation devices, individually called SRP and SNAP, both successfully cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2012 and in 2014. Surgeons use the 3D Surgical Planner (SRP) device for case analysis before surgery and the SNAP device during operation.
SRP itself is used before treatment to rehearse and prepare, allowing surgeons to manipulate the simulated tumor or aneurysm with tools reflective of those in the operating room. Doctors have the opportunity to practice each case, an extraordinary advance in comparison to previous methods, which were primarily based on 2D images.
Once in the operating room, surgeons can use the Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform (SNAP), a simulation device that does not offer surgery tools, but instead, connectivity to a surgery navigation system, or the “GPS” of the brain. The technology loads patient data and shows surgeon navigation within the brain during surgery. Surgeons have access to different angles of view and can visually manipulate the 3D model. An example would be the use of a navigation probe to freeze and rotate the model of a tumor – allowing surgeons to make critical decisions regarding the status of a tumor.
Behind Surgical Theater’s innovation and scientific achievement is a personal story. “[As a former pilot] taking my expertise and putting it into saving somebody’s life is mind blowing,” Geri tells NoCamels, “standing three feet from the patient with his head open is very emotional for me because I’m able to touch those patients, help them recover faster and get back to their lives quickly.”
World-renowned medical centers acknowledge that Surgical Theater is paving the way in advanced medical exploration. At the time of the writing of this article, leading surgery centers around the US, including the Mayo Clinic, the NYU Langone Medical Center and Mount Sinai Hospital, have installed Surgical Theatre systems with hopes to make their operating rooms more advanced than ever before.
Even the most experienced doctors need to rehearse
The simulation devices were recently brought for testing at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, leading to further acknowledgement of Surgical Theater’s potential as part of the surgery of the future.
“I believe this is going to be the best way for a surgeon to master one of the most complicated surgical tasks,” Dr. Sagi Harnof, deputy chair of the department of neurosurgery at Sheba Medical Center, tells NoCamels. “Any modern neurovascular surgeon should own such a system to keep the highest level of aneurysm surgery.”
Surgical Theater is hoping to collaborate with additional medical centers in the US and Israel, and to expand to markets in Europe and the Far East. Additionally, the company aims to continue research and innovation into cardiovascular and spinal surgery technologies.
After four years of ‘thinking out of the box,’ bringing flight simulation technology to the operating room, the company is experimenting beyond the navigation system, hoping to connect the simulation devices to microscopes. Geri says it only sounds like science fiction. “It won’t be fiction, just science.”
Photos and video courtesy of Surgical Theater