Tuesday, February 23, 2016

3D Imaging May Improve Surgery Outcomes

By Amadeo Constanzo
3D imaging technology adopted from other industries (such as gaming and entertainment) is becoming a real game changer in medicine.  The new 3D tools import MRI or CT scans and render these images into virtual 3D images, allowing the surgeons to plan in great detail before cutting open the patient.  There have also been advances in 3D imaging in endoscopic surgery where the 3D images guide the surgeon in real-time to perform the surgery with greater precision.  

Dr. James Chandler and Dr. Orin Bloch, neurosurgeons at Northwestern University, have started using such 3D endoscopic systems to more precisely remove brain tumors in patients.  The 3D technology allows the surgeon to see more vividly, enabling them to remove all traces of the tumor and less non-cancerous tissue.  The precision allows for less cutting and therefore, a speedier recovery for the patient after surgery.  More importantly, the added precision is crucial in lowering the known risks in brain surgery – coma, vision loss, and loss of speech.

For breast cancer patients, 3D imaging technology is beginning to improve detection and post-surgery outcome.  With traditional mammogram, tumors in hidden shadows are often undetected.  “The problem of overlapping shadows has confounded breast cancer screening because mammograms don’t show cancers that are hidden by overlapping tissue,” says Dr. Kyle Myers, Director of FDA’s Division of Imaging, Diagnostics, and Software Reliability.  The newer technologies of 3D breast tomosynthesis and 3D ultrasound and breast computerized tomography would enable the doctor to see the tumors in these hidden areas.  Two of the new technology have already been approved by the FDA, the GE Healthcare SenoClaire and the Selenia Dimensions 3D System.

Even without expensive 3D imaging systems, some tech savvy doctors are exploring the use of consumer 3D technology to improve surgery outcomes.  Take the case of a pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Redmond Burke of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, who used Google Cardboard to successfully operate on a baby, Teegan Lexcen, with an abnormal heart.  Dr. Burke used an app called Sketchfab to render the baby’s CT scans into 3D visuals on the iPhone.  With the iPhone and Google Cardboard, he visualized the surgery in virtual reality.

“I think about heart repairs in three dimensions,” said Dr. Burke.  3D imaging sure makes that easier.  

Other doctors had already concluded that Teegan was inoperable but 3D imaging enabled Dr. Burke to successfully operate on Teegan by allowing him to plan out every incision and every step of the surgery in 3D.  This decreased the amount of time the infant stayed cut opened and it was crucial because the more time spent in heart surgery for a baby, the higher the chances of heart and brain damage.

Despite the many reported cases of 3D imaging technology producing favorable results, more studies will need to be done to quantitatively confirm surgery success rates from the implementation of 3D imaging technology.  However, it all looks very promising from what we’ve seen so far.

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