Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Welsh 'super-needle' to aid pin-hole surgery training

Hywel Griffiths, BBC Wales Health Correspondent
Hywel Griffiths
BBC Wales health correspondent

Bangor University ImaGINe-S 'Superneedle' 3-D training in action
The simulator technology has already won a European award

Virtual 3D patients could be used to train staff in pin-hole surgery, thanks to work at Bangor University.

The ImaGINe-S simulator uses similar technology as computer games to recreate the feeling of guiding a surgical needle into the body.

The device has already been awarded an European prize for the use of computer graphics in medicine.

The team hope to see it introduced as a training tool within the health service over the next few years.

"What we're trying to do is create a virtual patient that a doctor or nurse can practice on," explained Prof Nigel John from the university's School of Computer Science.

"Rather than them having to practice on you or me, they can have a virtual patient that doesn't scream too much, to work out how to do a procedure."

The user wears 3D glasses to see a projection of a patient, and then moves two hand-held devices that simulate the role of a scanner and needle.

Pin-hole surgery training using virtual technology
Their post-operative pain is less, recovery is less, they don't have a scar afterwards
Prof Derek Gould
Royal Liverpool Hospital

"Its meant to be able to train scanning the patient with an ultrasound image to look for the target," said Prof John.

"Either the kidney, the liver or an artery that you want to puncture with a needle."

Using force-feedback, technology found in items like game controllers and video racing steering wheels, users can then feel the pressure of pushing the virtual needle - and guiding a wire through the body.

The team at Bangor have been working with interventional radiologist, Prof Derek Gould at the Royal Liverpool Hospital.

He explained that many modern procedures only require minimal intervention with a needle, rather than full open surgery, which benefits both doctor and patient.

"Their post-operative pain is less, recovery is less, they don't have a scar afterwards" he said.

"Interventional radiology has been described as pin-hole surgery, as it goes through such a tiny puncture site into the patient."

With greater use of pin-hole surgery, the ImaGINe-S team hope to see their simulator being taken up across different health services.

It can be used with an average office-standard PC, and according to Prof Nigel John, the cost is likely to fall in the future.

"A lot of the technology I use benefits from the computer games market" he added.

"They are driving down prices and increasing performance all the time of what you can do with computer graphics."

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