3D breakthrough may alter medical education

At Rensselaer, VR simulations mirror the squishy tactile qualities of organs, creating the possibility that med students may be able to learn without practicing on real patients.

Medical schools have another tool in their doctor bags as the next wave of virtual reality surgical simulations are developed, reports eSchool News

Developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the virtual reality instruments move in 3D on a computer screen, mirroring the movements of a stylus attached to the mechanical arm. The simulation mimics the tactile qualities of organs without students having to learn on real patients.

The relatively new field called haptics - the science of touch - has been using virtual simulations for awhile but this new prototype could lead to simulating an entire human body via a database of the physical characteristics of every bone, joint, and organ in our body.

It is hoped that advances in the field will lead to a total body database of all the physical characteristics of every bone, joint, and organ in our body for students to practice on.

"The technology we're using is far beyond what is out there," said RPI professor Suvranu De, director of the Advanced Computational Research Lab.

In the past, students have primarily used mannequins, animals and cadavers practicing surgical procedures. De claims his simulator is better, because there are no physical objects being sliced or poked. Plastic and springs simply can't reproduce the soft give of a lung or liver, nor can they reproduce the complicated interaction of internal organs when people breathe, he said.

"They'll be squishing against each other," said De. "Nothing stays static when you're breathing."

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