With big tech companies such as Facebook and Microsoft already investing billions into the development of the metaverse technology which is basically an Augmented Reality or as I like to call it, a bridge between the physical world and the digital world, a hospital is already using VR to help a mother follow through with the surgery of her six-month-old son.
Archie is a young boy that was birthed with a condition called Sagittal Synostosis that caused the growth lines in his skull to fuse too early.
With that said, his parents had just two options – opt for a risky surgical procedure or allow the child to grow with the defect which could have both physical and psychological impacts on the child.
If you’re wondering why I mentioned AR and VR earlier on, it’s because both parents are now able to see what the changes would be beforehand all in virtual reality.
According to the medical doctor in charge of the operation, this is more information that most parents don’t have access to.
Medicine and Virtual Reality
As Archie’s brain grows, his skull will not grow sideways in order to accommodate the vital organ but grow both in front and back which will result in a distorting head shape for the boy, hence, the physical and psychological impact mentioned earlier.
Archie’s condition isn’t life-threatening by the way but since the brain isn’t allowed to grow in a normal form due to the side compressions of the skull, the young boy could have speech and language delays and even intracranial pressures.
“It’s been quite overwhelming,” said his mother Amanda. “There have been a lot of appointments, and a lot of time away [from work]”.
Presented with the amazing opportunity to reverse this, Amanda and Judd – Archie’s parents didn’t hesitate when the hospital – Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children offered them the opportunity to be the first to use the ground-breaking AI platform that helps predict the outcome of the operation all in VR.
A 3D head was generated using Archie’s own head via a CT scan showing what the little boy’s head would look like after the surgery.
The 3D VR head can be seen below in green. The shape shows what the head of the boy will be after the success of the surgical procedure.
The algorithms needed to create these latter images have been made possible by the harnessing of data from 60 operations over the course of the last seven years.
“We’re excited, and obviously there is always that worry with what he’s going to have done,” Amanda said after the consultation.
“Although it’s a lot to take in, it is reassuring to know that’s what we’ve got to expect, and have that explained, and we’re not going to be waiting and wondering what’s happening.”
Another interesting thing about the technology includes the fact that the parents can even suggest potential modifications to the surgeon.
A ‘Truly informed consent’
A consultant paediatric neurosurgeon at the hospital, Dr Noor UI Owase Jeelani made it known that the technology is able to help the couple get a clearer picture of what the post-surgical shape of the boy’s head will look like.
He said: “Now when they sign the consent form, it’s what I would call truly informed consent.
“What I would like to see as a surgeon in 10, or perhaps 20 years’ time, is that most surgical practice is done this way where the control, and the power, is very much given to the parents and the patients.”
After about a week, Archie’s parents confirmed their decision to go ahead with the procedure.
The procedure involved the insertion of a small spring into Archie’s skull which will automatically commence the correction of the boy’s head shape.
The placement, and impact, of this spring, was also illustrated in the VR environment. After four weeks, the spring was removed.
Dr Jeelani invented the technique some 13 years ago and has helped with the reduction of the operation time from a whopping 3 hours to just 40 minutes and also cut blood transfusion by 90%.
This is definitely a big breakthrough in medicine because it has resulted in more predictable outcomes and predictability was the main data used to create the VR outcome of the surgery with over 90% accuracy.
While the technology was created for one particular condition, it is hoped it can be applied to many different sorts of surgery in the future.
“What we’ve seen here is essentially proof of principle,” said Dr. Jeelani. “That if you take a condition, an art form, and make it granular enough that you can study it, and put it on engineering and AI platforms, then you can actually predict the future with a reasonable amount of accuracy.”
Two weeks on from surgery, and Archie and his family are doing well.
“We’re quite relieved that we’re out the other side now,” Amanda said. “We’ve been told that there shouldn’t be any concerns with development and things, so we’re really happy with how it went.
“Having the opportunity to do the VR really reassured us that we were doing the right thing.
“Being able to see the “before and after” did relieve that pressure. It was quite a weight off our shoulders – but we’re happy.”