Just as pilots train on flight simulators before taking control of a real aircraft, doctors who perform delicate microsurgery require a training tool that allows them to learn and practice complex techniques without risking harm to patients or animals.
Simulation Systems is developing just such a tool: a simulator that uses virtual reality for microsurgical training.
The company’s device “combines proprietary computer hardware and software to enable virtual microsurgical suturing,” explains CEO Brian Smith. “Highly specialized input devices that look, feel and respond like actual microsurgical forceps are used to control virtual forceps in a simulated three-dimensional environment. The virtual forceps can be used, as in real microsurgery, to tie surgical knots. Ultimately, the simulation will allow the user to pass sutures through simulated anatomy in order to practice closing wounds with realistic complexity.”
Company founder Dr. Joseph Sassani, an eye surgeon and professor of ophthalmology at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, began research on the simulator five years ago. Simulation Systems was spun out of Penn State in 2013 after winning the TechCelerator @ Hershey Boot Camp for promising entrepreneurs. The company, located at the Hershey Center for Applied Research, has since received two rounds of investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania.
Microsurgery is performed on the smallest and most delicate anatomy, such as blood vessels, nerves and structures of the eye.
“As with any fine motor activity, acquiring and retaining mastery requires frequent repetition, and this is where our simulator will have an immediate impact,” says Smith.
Virtual reality microsurgical training will also be time and cost effective, and ethically responsible, eliminating the need for lab animals. And it will provide quantifiable data, such as hand motion analysis, to guide assessment of a trainee's skill level.
The company's current focus is on developing and implementing the physics required to simulate suturing interactions.
“At this point we have a functional prototype,” explains Smith, “and we are improving the integration between software and hardware components.”
To date, most of Simulation Systems’ product development has been outsourced. Now the company is preparing to establish both its own software engineering team and a clinical advisory board, helping them establish the quantitative metrics that will be most valuable for skills assessment and validation in preparation for a mid-2016 launch.
Source: Brian Smith, Simulation Systems
Writer: Elise Vider