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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2008, 13:31 GMT
Virtual bodies aid surgery skills
Virtual body
The system displays a complex model of human anatomy
Surgeons may soon be able to practise tricky operations using a virtual scalpel on a virtual body, thanks to new 3D imaging technology.

The system is being developed by the Digital Design Studio at Glasgow School of Art.

It has used car design software to create one of the most advanced medical visualisation systems in the world.

Hi-tech glasses relay signals between the virtual body and the surgeon, who also uses special sensory gloves.

The bodies and organs have been mapped with the help of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

The health of the patient can change and students will have to react
Professor Paul Anderson
Glasgow School of Art

By inputting data from computerised tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, students can practice virtual operations before making any incision for real.

The gloves allow them to touch and feel both the soft tissues and hard structures of the body in a fully-interactive, 3D environment, much like a digital hologram.

Professor Paul Anderson, from the Glasgow School of Art, said it offered an opportunity to do complex procedures over and over again.

Virtual body
Trainee surgeons can practise complex life-saving procedures

He said: "As medical students are working with this technology, and as they progress their learning and their experience, we can 'turn up the dial' and put into that scene some real-time interactive challenges.

"Things can start to go wrong, or if they do do something wrong then the patient can start to respond - the health of the patient can change and students will have to react.

"So, there is an opportunity to fail here, where the patient may die, but they are failing safely and that's interesting because that's where some of our best learning outcomes come from."

The system can also create larger than life images for students to get inside the human body and Prof Anderson also hopes to build a large lecture theatre to teach medical students.

What we need to be able to do is to practice safely
David Rowley
Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh

The imaging project came about after a meeting between Prof Anderson and David Rowley, from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Mr Rowley said: "Clearly surgeons need to practise and the brutal reality is that there's nothing quite like practising on the patient.

"Quite clearly that has got hazards and what we need to be able to do is to practise safely and in an environment which is relatively risk-free."

The developers said that although the system started out as a 3m project, costs have now come down to about 10,000, well within the budgets of most universities and perhaps the NHS.

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