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Investing in Companion Diagnostics to Advance Cancer Care

The 360-degree medical virtual reality (VR) technology, dubbed surgical theater, allows doctors to review and rehearse brain surgeries. “This is a game changer,” says Dr. Robert Louis, who’s used the technology for every one of his surgeries in the past two years.

Before this tech, doctors had to rely on 2D black and white images of the patient’s brain, showing tumors, aneurysms and other abnormalities. Now they wear a headset and can virtually fly through the patient’s brain.

Personalized approach​​​​​​​

Each virtual reality session is customized to the patient’s specific pathology, resulting in a 3D model of the brain. Doctors use it to strategize and practice their surgical route. “It lets us do a dry run to see if our plan for surgery is actually going to work,” says Dr. Louis.

He cites one study that found that 24 percent of the time, the 3D tech led to changes in the surgical plan. “We are able to use it to improve people’s lives and to restore their neurological function,” says Dr. Louis.

Patient benefits

Surgical theater was FDA approved in 2014. Currently 15 hospitals in the United States use it — at no cost to patients. The hospitals have purchased the tech because it will help doctors deliver better care to patients.

“When the patient sees it, it’s an aha moment — now they get what’s going on in their brain,” says Dr. Louis. “They feel much more comfortable going ahead with surgery.”

Family members and members of the medical staff benefit too, since everyone involved can have a good understanding of what’s going on.

Training tool

The technology is also helping train the next generation of doctors through education, collaboration and training. With VR, doctors and residents can learn about conditions and procedures without risk to patients. The tech is even used during surgery as a side-by-side reference, like a GPS, helping surgeons navigate the brain.

Surgical theater technology is expected to expand to treat other conditions, including cardiac surgery, liver and pancreatic cancers, and tumors of the lung and colon.

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