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by Surgical Tribune

Yeshwanth Pulijala’s PhD project aims to provide trainee surgeons with close-up, unrestricted 360-degree views of complex dental procedures, using virtual reality technology Oculus Rift. (Photographs: left: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock); right: University of Huddersfield)

Aug 12, 2015 | EUROPE

Research uses virtual reality technology to train dental surgeons

HUDDERSFIELD, UK: A University of Huddersfield researcher is harnessing the latest virtual reality technology to help oral and maxillofacial surgical trainees practise complex dental surgeries. His project aims to provide accurate 3-D visualisations of human anatomy and surgical procedures using Oculus Rift, a virtual reality head-mounted display.

Indian-born Yeshwanth Pulijala is a qualified dental surgeon. During his training, he was confronted with the problem of poor visualisation of dental procedures in the operating room. Being aware of these shortcomings in surgical training, as well as passionate about 3-D design and technology, he relocated to the UK to pursue postgraduate research on the use of advanced technology to improve health care.

During his master’s studies on 3-D medical visualisation at the University of Glasgow, Pulijala created a mobile app called SurFace that provides patient education in corrective jaw surgery. This inspired him to explore the potential of virtual reality for surgical education, using Oculus Rift. A commercial version of the device is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2016. However, Pulijala, who is currently studying for a PhD at the University of Huddersfield, was able to obtain the developer version for his research.

Learning through observation and hands-on participation is an important part of the education of surgical trainees, and medical and dental students, according to Pulijala. “During these sessions the trainees learn by observing the procedures in real time,” he stated. “But the problem is that not everybody can see what is happening. This is especially the case in crowded operating rooms where surgical trainees perform multiple duties. Also in surgeries confined to oral and maxillofacial zone, as the structures are complex and densely enclosed in a confined space, it is very hard to observe and learn. Further, a reduction in surgical training hours is severely affecting the training of surgeons,” Pulijala pointed out.

As a result, he continued, four out of ten surgical trainees are not confident in performing a procedure. Therefore, he is developing a tool that enables them to participate virtually in an operation. His PhD project aims to provide trainee surgeons with close-up, unrestricted 360-degree views of a surgical procedure, yielding the potential to improve surgical training substantially. “If you are a trainee surgeon, wearing an Oculus Rift, you will see the surgical procedure in an operating room environment and also be able to ‘touch’ the skull of the patient and interact with it,” Pulijala said.

He is currently developing the project concept and producing working prototypes. In the longer term, he envisions a system that will enable surgical trainees to practise and perform virtual operations. “But at the moment it is about creating a high-quality visualisation, interacting with the patient’s data and seeing their anatomy in great detail,” he concluded.

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by Surgical Tribune