For five years the University Department of Neurosurgery at the MedUni Vienna and the Vienna General Hospital under the leadership of Engelbert Knosp has been collaborating with the National Research Council Canada (NRC), where the simulator was developed in detail. The technology for a pituitary surgery simulator was developed in 2008 at the MedUni Vienna in the team of the neurosurgeon Stefan Wolfsberger within the framework of a dissertation. The Vienna-Montreal collaboration resulted from this. The MedUni Vienna is the only non-North American university participating in this development.
Training for around 1,000 surgeries a year
"The neuro touch simulator consists of two haptic devices to which neuro-surgical instruments are coupled," explains Wolfsberger. When operating virtually on the computer the trainer feels a "resistance" – as in a real operation. In this way various standard procedures can be simulated, even the operation on a brain tumour. "Annually at the MedUni Vienna around 1,000 surgeries are performed for which one can train using this equipment," says Wolfsberger. "It is like a kind of flight simulator on the brain. And at the end of the training there is a "driver’s licence", the go ahead for operating independently."
Although there are already other simulators in use around the world in neurosurgery, there are none yet with such a comprehensive and close-to-reality deployment possibility, and with such an exact display through a 3D microscope. A further advantage is that the equipment is extremely space-saving and on wheels.
According to Wolfsberger the next step in the development of the simulator technology in collaboration with the NRC in Montreal is the use of patient-specific data: "In the future MRI images of the brain are to be fed in. In this way every intervention can be simulated on the previous day and tailored exactly to the particular patient."
The MedUni Vienna’s neurosciences research cluster
Neurosciences is one of the five research clusters of the MedUni Vienna. The MedUni Vienna is increasingly focusing in this, and the other four specialist domains, on fundamental and clinical research. The other four research clusters are cancer research/oncology, vascular/cardiac medicine, allergology/immunology/Infectiology, and imaging.