Information technology, cardiology  

Visualizer for heart surgery training

3 May 2006

The visualizer enables a consultant to demonstrate, describe and discuss surgical procedures with a student audience and ensures the heart is perfectly illuminated so that students can see all the heart detail on screen.

Training heart surgeons is costly and time-consuming; perhaps this is not surprising given the critical and complex nature of the operations they perform. There is, however, a technique available that can speed up this process. Called a wetlab it simulates heart operations of virtually all types by using pigs' hearts, the most comparable to the human organ, on which trainee surgeons can practice.

According to Kevin Austin, Director of Kenilworth-based, WetLab Limited, one of Europe's leading wetlab specialists: “This technique can save the UK's National Health Service a great deal of the time and money involved in cardiac surgery without in any way lowering teaching standards. Indeed," he argues, “it is likely that the quality of surgeons and the techniques they use are improved."

On behalf of medical supplier, St Jude's Medical, WetLab provide a complete classroom package for up to 20 people including all the equipment, the operating tables, and the ethically-sourced animal organs. Each session consists of a consultant performing the operation watched by students who then repeat it themselves.

A vital part of the equipment is a visualizer that enables the consultant doing the training to demonstrate, describe and discuss surgical procedures such as fitting a heart valve while his actions are simultaneously shown on a screen to the audience.

"For this, it is crucial that every crevice of the heart and every detail of the procedure is clearly illuminated," Kevin explains. "The initial visualizer we used was the weakest part of our package as it created areas of darkness and, although we increased the lighting, this only produced more shadowing. But once I saw a demonstration of the WolfVision VZ-27, I realised our problems were solved."

The VZ-27's reflection-free light system ensures that all of the heart is perfectly illuminated even deep inside it; no detail is, therefore, concealed from the audience. In addition the consultant does not have to worry about adjusting the light or the focus, and is able to concentrate on the operation and his explanation. With a scanning rate of 20 frames per second, the VZ-27 clearly shows the movement involved in the surgical procedures while its high colour resolution ensures the images reveal each and every detail.

The VZ-27's patented Synchronised Lightfield, through the light projector inside the unit projecting a lightfield the same size as the pick-up area of the integral camera, ensures that whatever the consultant sees on the worksurface is exactly the same as that seen by the audience. Even when zooming in and out the lightfield and the displayed image change accordingly.

Another feature that has proved useful is the Picture Memory that allows snapshots of particularly difficult parts of the operation to be captured for display and discussion later.

By allowing all participants to have a clear, consistent view of the operation, the WolfVision visualizer has greatly improved the success of our wetlabs" says Kevin Austin. "The quality of the images is always impressive and immediately recognised by hospitals' teaching staff as superior to any alternative. There is no doubt that it is by far the best for our demanding application."

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