More precise surgery with the anatomy projector
If you project relevant information such as blood vessels onto a patient’s skin during surgery, you can operate much more accurately. The Radboudumc in Nijmegen developed the Anatomy projector which is based on augmented reality.
Translating medical information from a screen to a patient is difficult when a plastic surgeon must work on a microscopic scale. There must be another way, Dr. Stefan Hummelink thought. As a student of technical medicine, he did his graduation research at Radboudumc in the department of plastic surgery. It was in 2012, when augmented reality was still in its infancy. Hummelink built the prototype anatomy projector in its hangar.
“The principle of projected augmented reality was innovative at the time and we were able to patent it,” says Hummelink. Since then, the machine has been developed into a device as large as a thick tablet. It is used weekly during breast surgery at Radboudumc. “In breast reconstruction, a section is removed. Skin and fat, supplied by a blood vessel, are attached to the breast under the microscope. It is important to preserve the supply blood vessels, otherwise the operation will fail.
3D map on the skin
“With the projector, we can show exactly on the skin where these blood vessels are, but also, for example, the lymph nodes of a patient,” says Hummelink. This is different for each patient. This information is retrieved from a scanner, based on which a 3D plan is then made. The patient has markers applied to his skin. “It provides additional information to the plastic surgeon and the team around him.”
No need for AR glasses
Even if the projector moves, the images remain correctly displayed on the patient. This allows the plastic surgeon to work more effectively and efficiently. Another advantage is that the surgeon does not need AR glasses and everyone in the operating room can keep an eye on the projection with them. In 2017, Hummelink received funding from the Demonstrator program of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) to further develop the projector.
The Anatomy Projector was recently selected for the NWO Venture Challenge. This challenge aims to help entrepreneurs who are starting out to bring their product or service to market. A business case is set up in a few weeks. Then the product is presented to potential investors. Hummelink hopes a company will step in to help further develop the product and eventually bring it to market. Personally, he would like to continue providing healthcare solutions within a university hospital. “After all, this is where you see exactly what doctors are up against and where you can still improve healthcare.”
The anatomy projector is currently only used for breast reconstruction. But according to Hummelink, the technology has much more potential. “In addition to blood vessels, muscles, tendons or nerves, you can also project other information onto the body.” However, it also requires more research and costs a lot of money. “I also hope that the Venture Challenge that we are about to launch will be successful and that interested investors or companies will come forward. After all, screenings in the operating room are the future!