In a pioneering technique trialled in London, surgeons have used augmented reality (AR) to ‘see through’ tissue and reconnect blood vessels.
A team at Imperial College London at St Mary’s Hospital wore Microsoft HoloLens headsets while operating on five patients undergoing reconstructive surgery on their legs.
The technology allowed them to overlay images from CT scans — including the position of bones and blood vessels — onto the limb in the operating theatre.
The surgery involved taking flaps of tissue from elsewhere on the body, including skin and blood vessels, and using it to cover the wound and enable it to close and heal properly.
A vital step in the process is connecting the blood vessels of the ‘new’ tissue with those at the site of the wound, allowing oxygenated blood to reach the new tissue and keep it alive.
Usually, surgeons use a handheld scanner and ultrasound to locate blood vessels under the skin by detecting the movement of blood pulsing through them.
However, according to the surgical team, the HoloLens headset and augmented reality models were more reliable and less time-consuming than the ultrasound method.
“The application of AR technology in the operating theatre has some really exciting possibilities,” said Jon Simmons, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. “It could help to simplify and improve the accuracy of some elements of reconstructive procedures.
“While the technology can’t replace the skill and experience of the clinical team, it could potentially help to reduce the time a patient spends under anaesthetic and reduce the margin for error. We hope that it will allow us to provide more tailored surgical solutions for individual patients.”
The researchers believe that, once refined, the approach could also be applied to other procedures, such as breast reconstruction following mastectomy.