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article imageHoloLens used to 'see inside' hospital patients before surgery

By James Walker     Feb 13, 2018 in Technology
Microsoft has detailed a pilot project at a UK hospital that uses the company's HoloLens mixed reality headset to "see inside" surgical patients. Surgeons use the device to identify key blood vessels, bones and muscles before they start an operation.
In a post to Microsoft's newsroom, the company explained how mixed reality is taking the place of ultrasound scanners at Imperial College London. According to the medical researchers using the headset, surgeons can benefit from mixed reality because it helps them to plan operations with more precision. The system has been successfully trialled during operations at London's St Mary's Hospital.
The specialist HoloLens app uses existing CT scans of the patient to construct a 3D digital model of the part of the body to be operated on. Major blood vessels and muscles can be identified and assessed using the 3D visualisation. This information is used by the doctors to plan the operation in meticulous detail, giving them a view into the patient's unique anatomy.
According to the researchers, HoloLens reduces risk during surgical procedures because there's less chance the surgeons will make an incision that turns out to be misplaced. Patients undergoing reconstructive surgery often have skin and blood vessels moved from another part of the body, enabling the wound to be covered and healed. Using mixed reality, surgeons can identify the location of blood vessels to move before they've begun to work inside the body.
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"This technology allows us to experience the data that we have collected from patients before their operation in the most realistic and natural way," said Dr Philip Pratt, Research Fellow at Imperial College London's Department of Surgery and Cancer.
"You look at the leg and essentially see inside of it; you see the bones and the course of the blood vessels. Mixed reality offers a new way to find these blood vessels accurately and quickly by overlaying scan images onto the patient during the operation."
In the trials, HoloLens is replacing handheld ultrasound scanners which use the movement of the blood to identify the locations of veins and arteries. This is less accurate than a 3D visualisation and can take more time to produce reliable results. During time-sensitive operations, HoloLens could provide the information more quickly.
Microsoft admitted the use of mixed reality inside operating theatres is "at an early stage." HoloLens has already assisted during several real operations though, including surgery on a man involved in a car crash and a woman who fractured her fibula.
Microsoft and the researchers are now searching for more hospitals to participate in trials of the technology, presenting it as a forward-looking alternative to previous forms of medical device. HoloLens could also have applications outside of surgery by helping doctors and nurses to visualise the internals of a patient's body.
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