Brain-surgery simulator so lifelike, it’s ‘eerie’—medical student

NASA doesn’t send astronauts into space until they’ve logged a certain number of hours in capsule simulators equipped with full control panels. The day may be coming when hospitals won’t send neurosurgeons into the OR until they’ve honed their skills in brain surgery simulators outfitted with diffusion tensor MRI.

Erene Stergiopoulos, a science writer and medical student at the University of Toronto, has vividly described what it’s like to use one such simulator, Synaptive Medical’s BrightMatter system.

For her the imaging equipment and robotic arm are amazing enough. But she’s most taken by the anatomically correct fake brain with resectable tumors—and the overall experience itself. This she found not only eerily lifelike but also appropriately humbling.

“As I positioned my probe, watching the neuroimaging screen to align it, and checking the microscope’s video feed to see the tumor, I realized every person in the room could watch what I was doing,” she wrote for Motherboard. “Usually neurosurgeons are the only people in the room who can actually watch the operation. There’s a power that comes with that exclusivity … but on the flip side, there’s an incredible levelling effect when that exclusivity gets taken away.”

Diffusion tensor imaging was in the news recently, as a neurosurgeon and a neuroradiologist have created a new way to map nerve fibers with fine precision prior to removing a rare type of tumor.

To read Stergiopoulos’ colorful account of her encounter with simulated brain surgery, click here