Surgical procedures performed on the brain are among the most delicate in medicine. A slip can forever compromise some fundamental patient skill, such as movement, speech, or even social skills. Now, a team of French doctors has started using a new method to reduce the risk of “invisible” damage: virtual reality.
During surgery, the team led by Philippe Menei, from the Center for Research in Cancerology and Immunology in Nantes, keeps the patient awake, even if anesthetized, to monitor their reactions. With an electrode, they can paralyze specific parts of the brain for a few seconds and see if skills such as speech are impacted.
The problem is that analyzing these visible reactions is a simple task. If a patient cannot speak or move properly, it is a clear sign that that area of the brain deserves more care, for example. For social cognition and skills such as recognizing nonverbal communication, the problem may only manifest itself long after surgery. That’s where virtual reality comes in.
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With the technology, physicians can present social situations to the patient on the operating table to test whether there is an impact on the ability to interpret non-verbal language. In the 3D scenario, the patient interacts with avatars and, based on this interaction, it is possible to measure possible unwanted changes.
As Menei explains, there are several interesting usage scenarios for this application. A musician, for example, can be placed in a virtual orchestra so that surgeons can preserve their ability to play instruments.
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