The brain is a difficult organ to operate on in part due to its jelly-like consistency and because what’s below the surface is not visible, save for pre-op imaging. Because it is so soft and gelatinous, the brain compresses as soon as an instrument touches it, which affects the location of the target and how easily one can get to it. While pre-op imaging can give a good idea of where the surgeon is trying to get to, once the surgery starts the precision of the assumed location is compromised and requires doctors to rely a great deal on their intuition and experience.
Research scientists at the University of Luxembourg are working on improving how brain surgeries are performed by simulating the brain and the instruments that come in contact with it. This technology is intended to be eventually used in real-time, tracking the neurosurgical tools and seeing how their virtual counterparts affect a virtual version of the patient’s brain. The surgeon would monitor the simulation during insertion of the instruments in order to predict where their tips are reaching inside the brain.
Because simulations often require a lot of computational power, particularly for real-time applications, the researchers designed their simulator to allow users to limit the amount of time it spends on a task. This can help guarantee that the simulation is performed within a timeframe acceptable for brain surgeries, though of course faster simulations will result in less precision.
In addition to surgical guidance, the same approach can help in trying different approaches prior to actual surgery. This can help avoid damage to important healthy tissues and knowing ahead of time how challenging a given procedure will be.
Here’s a couple of demo simulations, including one on a virtual brain having an electrode positioned as part of a deep brain stimulation implantation:
Study in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering: Real-time Error Control for Surgical Simulation…