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Hoag Uses Virtual Reality Technology to Improve Brain Surgery

The future of brain surgery has arrived at Hoag – and for anyone who plays video games, it will look both highly sophisticated and remarkably familiar.

Hoag is the first and only hospital in Orange County to treat neurosurgery patients using the same extraordinary software platform that powers today’s highly immersive and realistic computer games.

Developed by Surgical Theater, the software – Surgical Navigation Advanced Platform, or SNAP – uses diagnostic images, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) and computed tomography (CT), to create an incredibly detailed 3D image of brain tissue, blood vessels, bone and other structures of and around the brain that allows surgeons to run through the surgery before walking into the operating room.

Funded entirely by philanthropy, this extraordinarily advanced imaging tool allows neurosurgeons to “fly through” the brain and precisely rehearse their procedures in order to plan the safest, most minimally invasive surgical approaches – all in 3D.

It’s a surgical game-changer, using gaming technology.

Surgeons can manipulate a 3D model on a touchscreen, or wear Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles. Robert Louis, M.D., neurosurgeon and director of Hoag Skull Base and Pituitary Tumor Program, recently used the technology to change course in removing a tumor he had planned to access through a patient’s eyebrow. A “tour” through the patient’s brain via the 3D model revealed that a portion of the tumor was blocked by the patient’s optic nerve.

Turning the image, Dr. Louis saw a better path through the side that would allow him to remove the entire tumor without affecting any surrounding structures.

“I wouldn’t have known I couldn’t get the bottom of the tumor just using the 2D images,” Dr. Louis said. “This is a huge leap forward for us in terms of the level of care and safety we are able to provide our neurosurgery patients.”

“Now that we have this, I can’t imagine doing brain surgery without it,” said Christopher Duma, M.D., neurosurgeon and director of Hoag Brain Tumor Program. “It allows for increasingly minimally invasive procedures, which are much better for our patients because they result in fewer complications, shorter hospital stays and overall faster recoveries and patient comfort.”

Michael Brant-Zawadzki, M.D., F.A.C.R., Ron & Sandi Simon Executive Medical Director Endowed Chair, Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, and Senior Physician Executive, Hoag, said this technology is yet another example of Hoag’s pioneering, innovative nature.

“As a trusted health care leader, this only furthers Hoag’s commitment to exploring and perfecting innovative treatment options to provide the best care possible, all focused on the individual patient need,” Dr. Brant-Zawadzki said. “Every patient’s brain is unique and Surgical Theater now allows us to virtually see, study and plan an individualized surgical route to help ensure the best outcome.”

For more information, call 888-351-6679.