Halifax doctors perform simulated
HALIFAX – Dr. David
Clarke (pictured), a Halifax neurosurgeon, has used Canadian-developed
technology to perform the world’s first simulated brain operation on a
patient a day before removing her actual tumour.
Dr. Clarke used a virtual model of Ellen Wright’s brain to remove a
simulated benign tumour before removing the actual tumour the following
“It looks like the real thing and it feels like the real thing, and all
of that is specific to the patient you’re about to operate on,” Clarke
said of the procedure, which is believed to be the first of its kind in
“So when we’re removing the tumour, it’s really Ellen’s tumour we’re
removing. Imagine if your pilot simulated your flight before you took
it. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
Dr. Clarke is a professor of neurosurgery at Dalhousie Medical School,
staff neurosurgeon at Capital Health, member of the Brain Repair Centre,
and collaborator in the National Research Council (NRC) project.
The simulator is part of a three-year project in partnership with the
National Research Council that will see a team of about 50 people from
10 centres across Canada change the face of brain surgery.
The system makes use of highly developed haptic hardware that allows a
user to move and touch virtual objects. Integrated software makes the
virtual tissue behave as it would in actual surgery. “I feel the
resistance of the tumour as I remove it,” Clarke said of the simulator.
“I feel the tip of the instrument vibrating, and so it gives that very
It cost $10 million to develop the simulator, which the team hopes to
sell to hospitals, clinics and schools worldwide.
Dr. Ryan D’Arcy, a neuroscientist who worked on the development of the
device, said the simulation is modelled after a specific patient before
the operation, is realistic in looks and even touch, and uses the same
instruments as the actual procedure.
“To create the simulator we take the patient and acquire a large amount
of high-quality (MRI) images of not only the structure, but also images
of the functions, so critical (brain) areas like motor or speech,”
“Then a team – through complex mathematics and engineering – creates a
device that allows you to see in three dimensions, so you have a
realistic environment where the brain pulsates and bleeds. But you also
can feel it, so when you actually interact with the (real) brain, you
know what it feels like.”
It has taken 18 months to develop the simulator, and at the end of the
three-year project, D’Arcy hopes seven such machines will be established
in Canadian centres.
Posted Aug. 27/09.