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3D virtual reality training for trainee dental surgeon unveiled

Researcher Yesh Pulijala has overcome the limitations of conventional training by creating ‘an immersive virtual reality operating room experience’

Rave reviews following pilot launch with trainee surgeons in India

Researchers at the University of Huddersfield are developing new ways of using Virtual Reality to train surgeons.  The technology will provide close-up, stereoscopic 3D views of procedures in a 360-degree virtual operating room without the sightline problems that can arise in a crowded operating theatre.

VR surgery uses Oculus Rift head-mounted display and Leap Motion tracking devices to provide trainees with a first person interactive learning experience.  When perfected, this technique could play an important role in improving surgical training on a global scale.  It has been estimated that more than two million new surgical practitioners will be required over the next 15 years, meaning that innovations in education are vital.

The VR Surgery project has been triggered by PhD candidate Yesh Pulijala.  A qualified dental surgeon who became aware of the limitations of conventional training, he is focussing on the use of virtual reality to train surgeons.

He is supervised at the University of Huddersfield by Professor Minhua Ma, a leading authority on the use of serious computer games for the purposes of health education and training.  She and Yesh co-authored a chapter about VR surgery – described as “an immersive virtual reality operating room experience” – that appears in a new book titled Serious Games and Edutainment Applications Vol II, co-edited by Professor Ma.

Yesh Pulijala is co-supervised by Professor Ashraf Ayoub of the Dental School at Glasgow University, and he is enabling the recording of maxillofacial surgery for the new VR technique.  The initial focus is on a complex operation known as Le Fort I surgery, which addresses the correction of facial deformities.

The PhD research conducted by Yesh will be completed during 2017, but the project’s scope has been broadened by the involvement of the University of Huddersfield’s Dr David Peebles, an expert in cognitive processes.  He is supervising the doctoral research of Matthew Pears, who has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in psychology and cognitive science.

Matthew realised that Yesh’s project would be a good springboard for his own PhD and he is investigating ways in which human factors and non-technical skills, including the situational awareness that is vital but instinctive for experienced practitioners, could be incorporated into the VR Surgery.

Matthew’s research has included conducting cognitive task interviews with maxillofacial surgeons who have spoken in depth about their experiences and how they react when problems arise during surgery.

“A lot of training of surgeons is about the nuts and bolts of doing the surgery,” said Dr Peebles. “But there is a whole aspect of their expertise that is called situation awareness, which is about developing a mental model of the whole task and the whole environment.

“It’s much broader than just doing the surgery and really vital for training novices.  Now we are trying to encapsulate all the extra knowledge that experts have and Matt is exploring ways to incorporate it into the system that Yesh has designed.”

The VR Surgery project, which has been validated by expert surgeons in the UK, underwent evaluation trials in India, Yesh Pulijala’s homeland.  He was joined by Professor Ma, Dr Peebles and Matthew Pears for a two-and-a-half week trip that was partly funded by the Santander Mobility Fund.  Huddersfield is a member of the bank’s international universities network.

The team visited seven renowned dental schools in India and conducted interviews with more than 90 trainees – an exceptional number.  Guest lectures and hands-on demonstrations of VR Surgery gained significant interest and enthusiasm amongst the faculty and trainees, as seen in an online video.

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