The National University Health System in Singapore has started a research and development programme to explore the use of mixed reality technology in clinical care.
In a press statement, the healthcare group said a team of neurosurgeons from the National University Hospital has studied the potential of holographic technology to locate brain tumours during surgeries.
WHAT IT DOES
In a proof of concept demonstration, a holographic visor was used to create a 3D hologram of a patient’s brain scan that was projected into space and superimposed onto a patient’s head during surgery.
The hologram was generated using a 3D medical software called Virtual Surgery Intelligence by German medical MR platform developer apoQlar.
The MR technology enables surgeons to identify tumours “quickly and precisely” and know their exact location and which angle to make an incision. Surgeons can also view the holographic image from different angles, as well as interact with and control it by gesture and speech recognition.
WHY IT MATTERS
The NUHS has already completed the first phase of the research programme. Through the programme, it wanted to support the development of next-generation clinical applications that would “augment clinical processes”, improve patient safety and enhance both undergraduate and postgraduate education.
The group implied that the MR headset, which weighs around 500 grams, may replace existing bulky operation theatre equipment in the future and reduce exposure to radiation during procedures.
Potential use cases of the holographic solution include live streaming of data from image acquisition machines and the use of AI and machine learning for advanced image processing and predictive analytics. The Microsoft HoloLens 2 device that was used in the demonstration may also be used to illustrate to surgery patients the steps of their procedure.
The NUHS has outlined a holomedicine roadmap that includes near and long-term research projects, integration with existing hospital systems, procedures to onboard users and enhancing the hospital’s infrastructure to support the system. It hopes to implement holographic technology in all its hospitals and healthcare institutions “in the near future”.
For now, the NUHS said it still has to conduct clinical validation studies and trials before adopting the MR solution as a primary clinical method. The system is needed to be registered with governing bodies such as the Health Sciences Authority.
THE LARGER TREND
The US has already seen the application of MR technology in healthcare. For example, an OU Health surgeon in Oklahoma has used an MR device to safely and efficiently conduct complex reconstructions. The system uses AI to visualise superimposed and anatomically aligned 3D CT scan data during surgery.
As early as 2019, an augmented reality concept for image-guided minimally invasive surgeries was developed through a partnership between Microsoft, the maker of the HoloLens 2, and Philips. The concept brings live imaging and other sources of vital data into a 3D holographic environment that can be controlled by a physician. In one case, it enables surgeons to see the real world superimposed with the live data and 3D medical imagery needed to guide precision therapy.
In other regional news, virtual reality technology is being used to train medical students and prepare surgeons before performing an operation. In Australia, for instance, some hospitals have deployed Vantari VR‘s training platform for their junior doctors and trainees.
ON THE RECORD
“Holographic technology may radically transform the way we practice medicine. Early adoption will place NUHS at the forefront of medical MR research and position us as a pioneer in the clinical use of this technology,” said NUHS Group CTO Ngiam Kee Yuan, who oversees the hospital group’s Holomedicine Programme R&D.
“The advancements in technology, especially in the field of MR, has opened new horizons to the medical profession. By merging other technologies such as artificial intelligence, real-time image recognition, and predictive modelling, these MR devices offer clinicians capabilities that were once thought impossible,” he added.
“For over thirty years now, we have been using a handheld navigation system to navigate and identify the location of the tumour. In comparison, this new mixed reality system is more intuitive as we can now see inside the patient’s head without the need to look up and refer to a computer screen while performing a procedure,” commented Associate Professor Yeo.