PhD researcher wants to use virtual reality to train dental surgeons

A University of Huddersfield researcher is using the latest virtual reality technology to train surgeons.

PhD researcher Yeshwanth Pulijala (pictured) is helping oral and maxillofacial surgical trainees to wear the Oculus Rift headset in order to perform complex medical procedures.

During his training, the now qualified dental surgeon experienced poor visualisation in the operating room. He relocated to the UK for postgraduate research, picking up a Master’s degree in 3D medical visualisation at University of Glasgow.

He created a mobile app called SurFace that provides patient education in corrective jaw surgery. This inspired him to explore the potential of virtual reality for surgical education, using the Oculus Rift VR headset.

A commercial version of the Rift is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2016, but Yesh – now studying for a PhD at the University of Huddersfield – has managed to get his hands on the developer version for his research.

“During sessions, trainees learn by observing the procedures in real time,” said Yesh. “But the problem is that not everybody can see what is happening. This is especially the case in crowded operating rooms where surgical trainees perform multiple duties. Also in surgeries confined to oral and maxillofacial zone, as the structures are complex and densely enclosed in a confined space, it is very hard to observe and learn.

“Further, a reduction in surgical training hours is severely affecting the training of surgeons.

“If you are a trainee surgeon, wearing an Oculus Rift, you will see the surgical procedure in an operating room environment and also able to ‘touch’ the skull of the patient and interact with it."

Yesh says that four out of ten surgical trainees are not confident in performing the procedure, so he’s developing a tool which helps them to virtually participate in an operation.

His PhD project aims to provide trainee surgeons with close-up, unrestricted, 360-degree views of a surgical procedure.

Yesh is now developing the concept and producing working prototypes. In the longer term, he predicts that technology will be used to help surgical trainees learn and carry out virtual operations.

“But at the moment it is about creating a high-quality visualisation, interacting with the patient’s data and seeing their anatomy in great detail," he added.

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