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Professor Breedon (left) and postgraduate student Mark Golab (right).Researchers at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom have developed a way to use wearables to improve the safety of spinal surgery. The optical head-mounted display unit, similar to Google Glass, allows clinicians to receive live surgical information during a selective dorsal rhizotomy, used to improve the muscle stiffness suffered by children with cerebral palsy. At present, surgeons performing this operation would have information relayed to them verbally by a colleague speaking via a screen from elsewhere in the operating theater.

This surgery requires the surgeon to sever two-thirds of a nerve root in the spine. The new design conveyed through the optical wearable will project information about how responsive the patient’s nerves are onto the lens, allowing for real-time information. “This design allows a surgeon to analyse crucial data in his line of sight hands free at real time, without the need to look away from the working field of view and communicate across the operating theatre while he’s performing this procedure,” said postgraduate student Mark Golab, who developed the interface as part of his masters degree in medical product design.

“This improves the efficiency of this surgical procedure while also allowing the surgeon to have a better understanding of live information which he needs in order to perform the operation.”

The research was led by Philip Breedon, a professor of smart technologies in Nottingham Trent University’s Design for Health and Wellbeing Research Group, with additional consultation by Michael Vloeberghs, a professor of paediatric neurosurgery and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Neurosurgeon at the Nottingham University Hospital. An exterior-facing camera also allows the surgeon’s perspective to be transmitted live to a third party.

“This is an example of ‘live update’ direct from a monitoring device to the surgeon,” said Vloeberghs, who performs selective dorsal rhizotomy operations. “The monitoring information is displayed directly and allows the surgeon to keep sight of the area where the procedure is done rather than looking away to a monitor or having the information relayed second by a technician doing the monitoring.

“This example proves the feasibility and is a token of the possibilities this technology has in teaching and training, supervision and ‘live’ second opinion in uncommon procedures.” The design is currently on public exhibition at the university’s School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment’s Postgraduate Design Exhibition 2015.

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