Armstrong seeks to successfully simulate surgeries

Ryan Armstrong

Western Engineering News | April 16, 2015

By Jason Teakle

Imagine if doctors were able to tell hospitalized patients in need of surgery that their specific procedures were seamless – before they even occur.

That is the long-term goal of Biomedical PhD candidate Ryan Armstrong’s research, and the topic of his Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) presentation which nabbed the second-place finish in the April 9 competition, held at Western’s Davenport Theatre, Talbot College.

“The bottom line is reducing surgical risk and error,” said Armstrong. “We want to be able to tell patients their procedures were successful before they happen. That’s the future of this research.”

Patients’ medical images are used to create scenarios within a digital surgical simulator to represent the patient. Through this process, surgeons would be able to practice specific procedures on simulators representing individual patients.

“These simulators are like video games for surgeons,” he explained. “However, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring simulators accurately represent patients.”

Just as pilots in training use flight simulators and tactical police officers use digital simulations of emergency situations, the project focuses on creating simulators for several different neurosurgical procedures. For each procedure, special tools need to be developed and validations must be performed.

“This work crosses over into psychology of human performance because we are examining surgical proficiency using simulator metrics,” explained Armstrong. “One of the ongoing challenges is determining what metrics reflect successful procedures and how we can quantify surgical skill. Our metrics need to actually reflect surgical performance, so these measures can distinguish between different levels of surgical skill.”

Although the research shows much potential for the future of surgery, Armstrong said the technology remains a work in progress.

“Surgical rehearsal is a relatively new concept, but we’re working hard to make it a reality.”

Watch a video of Armstrong's 3MT presentation below: