UK hospital performs keyhole surgery using 3D imagery

Doctors will today perform the world’s first remotely viewed 3D keyhole surgery at the Royal Surrey County Hospital.

The footage from inside the patient seen by the operating doctor will be transmitted live to an audience in a separate screening room, as part of an ongoing study of the effect of 3D video on surgeons’ attention spans.

The hospital began using 3D endoscopic cameras earlier this year to give surgeons performing keyhole surgery a better sense of depth when moving their instruments around inside a patient.

But until now the image quality hasn’t been good enough to use for educational purposes, said Ralph Smith, a PhD student at the Minimal Access Therapy Training Unit (MATTU) of Surrey University’s Postgraduate Medical School.

‘Our work harnesses the latest 3D systems that appear to be far better in quality and have the ability to transmit, project, record and edit in good quality stereoscopic images, which hasn’t really been done before,’ he told The Engineer.

The images will be captured using a system built by US firm Solid-Look and transmitted to the surgeon and by fibre-optic cable to the audience, all of whom will wear polarising-lens glasses to watch the 3D footage.

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The surgical equipment in use

MATTU is also carrying out a study to see if the benefits of increased depth perception from 3D images outweigh the affect they have on surgeons’ attention spans throughout lengthy operations.

Concerns about the negative effects of 3D video have so far helped prevent the technique from becoming more widely used.

‘Broadly, we would expect there to be a huge advantage from using 3D because you get all the depth information,’ said research leader Dr David Windridge of the university’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing.

‘The downside is that the display process uses stereopsis. A separate image is being presented to each eye on a screen and the problem is the eyes need to keep focusing on the screen but naturally they want to focus on somewhere in the three-dimensional space that’s created in the brain.’

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Ralph Smith (left) and David Windridge demonstrate the 3D keyhole equipment

Windridge’s team will be using eye-tracking technology to study where the surgeon’s gaze falls throughout the length of four- to five-hour operations and assess attentional fatigue.

They also hope to study how higher-level brain functions to do with reasoning overrule lower-level processes related to the intake of images.

‘We’ll use this environment to ask some really quite fundamental questions in cognitive science about how the human mind focuses attention while completing complex tasks,’ said Windridge.