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What Is Virtual Brain Surgery?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 25 October 2016
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Virtual brain surgery is a learning method that teaches surgical skills involving the brain and nervous system through computer simulation. In most forms, specially designed software programs recreate the brain’s structure. These programs may also allow individuals to perform surgical procedures by using computer parts. Sometimes, virtual reality simulators or digitized equipment designed to look like actual surgical tools may be used as well.

Neurosurgery is a focused field that generally encompasses surgical procedures performed on the nervous system, particularly the brain. Traditional brain surgery is a complex process that requires much preparation and knowledge of specific brain disorders. Neurosurgeons must thus be highly skilled in a variety of techniques, ranging from endoscopy to microsurgery.

Perhaps the most common type of virtual brain surgery is available through computer software programs. Many medical schools and other training facilities may purchase these programs for classroom use. A typical program might provide animated or digital views of the human brain and present specifically assigned brain conditions. Individuals may then be presented with various steps or scenarios for subsequent surgical procedures that they must perform. Video or text-based surgical instructions could be provided.

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Virtual reality simulators present more advanced methods for performing a virtual brain surgery. These devices include virtual graphics that are provided by means of a simulator device placed on an individual’s head, or by presentation of the images in a confined simulator chamber. In these types of technologies, tactile devices may be attached to the individual’s arms and hands as well. Such features then sense the individual’s limb movements and recreate the movements in the virtual graphics. In this manner, the individual interacts with his or her virtual world: the operating room and the patient.

Advocates propose many benefits for virtual brain surgery. For one, the technology provides students with a more hands-on and interactive approach aside from rote textbook learning. As such, skills can be practiced and fine-tuned without posing any danger to actual patients. These techniques also somewhat curb the need for animal testing. Further, individuals are often instructed by respected professionals and will encounter many of the same potential complications that these physicians faced in the real world.

Although virtual brain surgery is primarily a learning tool, some advanced brain scanning techniques might also be considered a form of virtual brain surgery because they reduce the necessity of invasive biopsies. In these techniques, electronic devices may be placed over the skull. After activation, the device would then provide images of the patient’s inner brain via computer-assisted imaging. If abnormalities such as tumors could be detected in this manner, then the small surgical techniques that biopsies use could potentially be curtailed.

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