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Virtual Temporal Bone Project Uses Technology, Simulated Surgery to Teach the Next Generation of Surgeons

COLUMBUS, OH - 6/30/2008

For a generation of surgeons who have grown up playing video games, they are now learning temporal bone surgery of the skull in a similar way. Physicians and researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are using state-of-the-art computer animation to help train the next generation of surgeons.

The Virtual Temporal Bone Project, a multidisciplinary approach developed in conjunction with the Ohio Supercomputer Center and The Ohio State University, uses technology and simulated surgery to operate on the temporal bone of the skull and skull-based tumors.  

“This is not just cool technology,” Gregory Wiet, MD, a surgeon in Otolaryngology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, explained. “It is designed to be so much more. We want to actually see that it does transfer into learning and transfer into better outcomes for our patients.”

This training simulator can do everything from mimic the movement of a drill, to read the density of the temporal bone. A phantom joystick is used to guide the student through surgery actually feeling the resistance of the bone. Unlike typical training methods on cadavers, virtual patients can bleed allowing students to train and think on their feet in life-like demonstrations.

“With this type of training, surgeons are not only learning with their eyes, but with their sense of touch,” Wiet, also on the faculty at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, said. “That is what we call haptic feedback – an important tool in the learning process in which surgeons need to know how to use their senses in order to guide their surgery.”

With funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, The National Institutes of Health, Wiet has begun a multi-site study regarding the use of the simulator in a project geared at the development and evaluation of a virtual environment for resident training in surgical techniques of temporal bone surgery. The multi-institutional validation study involves a number of national and international otolaryngological programs. 

The goal of the study is to determine whether students who are taught this kind of surgery using the simulator, compared to traditional methods, perform better resulting in more favorable outcomes.

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