Brain surgeons turn to virtual reality technology as a training method

Published: Dec. 29, 2016 at 4:21 PM EST
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Brain surgeons at UCLA are now using virtual reality to make operations more precise and less time-consuming.

Lucas Deines is grateful he can spend time with his kids, Kai and Jamie today after doctors found a one-inch tumor in his brain two years ago.

"I had no idea what to expect. I was scared to death. I thought the worst. I started googling it, which just reinforced the worst" said Deines.

UCLA's doctor Neil Martin used surgical theater virtual reality to map Lucas’s tumor. It took 2D images from MRIs and CT scans to create a 3D reconstruction of the inside of Lucas’s head.

"As somebody who’s done about 5,000 operations, there’s no question in my mind this is tremendously useful and improves the quality and efficiency of the surgery that i’m doing," said Martin.

Doctor Martin virtually toured Lucas’s brain before surgery with hand controllers and a headset. He saw the tumor was wrapped around the carotid artery.

"It’s extremely helpful. To explore it in three dimensions is almost like walking around it, so that you can see the angles, the proximity, the relationship between normal structures and the abnormality," explained Dr. Martin.

Someday, Dr. Martin sees residents like these perfecting virtual reality surgeries before ever getting into an operating room.

Surgeons are now using the surgical theater system at UCLA, Stanford, NYU, the Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai and Case Western.


TOPIC: Surgical Theater Saves Brains

REPORT: MB #4196

BACKGROUND: Primary brain tumors are malignant tumors that begin specifically in the brain. It is the most common cause of cancer-related death in adolescents and young adults aged 15-39 and the most common cancer occurring among 15-19 year olds. Malignant brain tumors can occur at any age, there is no specific reason why they appear and the symptoms depend on its size and location. The most common symptoms of brain tumors include headaches; numbness or tingling in the arms or legs; seizures, memory problems; mood and personality changes; balance and walking problems; nausea and vomiting; changes in speech, vision, or hearing.

(Source: &

TREATMENTS: Treatments for brain tumors depend on the type or grade, its location, its size and the health and age of the patient. The three treatments that exist to treat brain tumors are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation; most of the time patients get a combination of all three. Surgery happens to be the first and most effective treatment for patients; nevertheless, surgery also carries a lot of risk since the brain is such a delicate organ.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Virtual reality by Surgical Theater is an application that allows doctors to take two dimensional traditional scans, MRIs and CTs, and turn them in to realistic three dimensional reconstructions. This technology allows brain surgeons to completely understand the tumor they have to extract, which allows them to envision and plan a surgery in the most effective and safe way. The technology doesn’t only help doctors; it also allows the patient to understand how their procedure is going to be performed step by step. Furthermore, virtual reality will most likely turn into a surgical planning tool. It can be implemented in more surgical specialties, like cardiology and spinal surgery. Virtual reality was developed at UCLA. It’s now in use at several major medical centers around the country including Stanford, Mayo Clinic, NYU, Mt. Sinai, and Case Western Reserve.

(Source: Dr. Neil Martin)