Researcher uses virtual reality to train dental surgeons


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SMILE: Yeshwanth Pulijala says he hopes virtual reality technology will enable dental students to observe complex surgeries to their fullest

SMILE: Yeshwanth Pulijala says he hopes virtual reality technology will enable dental students to observe complex surgeries to their fullest

Innovative technology promotes ‘interactive’ learning

An Indian-born dental surgeon, who had to overcome poor eyesight to forge his own career in the industry, is hoping to utilise the latest virtual reality technology to train future surgeons from as early as next year.

Yeshwanth Pulijala, a researcher at the University of Huddersfield, aims to provide accurate visualisations of the human anatomy and surgical procedures via state-of-the-art headsets.

During his own training, Mr Pulijala was confronted by the problem of poor visualisation in the operating room.  

This awareness of shortcomings in surgical training, alongside a passion for 3D design and technology, led him to relocate to the UK for postgraduate research that aims to make breakthroughs in the use of advanced technology to improve healthcare.

First came a Master’s degree in 3D medical visualisation at University of Glasgow, where he created a mobile app called SurFace - providing patient education in corrective jaw surgery.

This inspired him to explore the potential of virtual reality for surgical education, using a highly-advanced headset called Oculus Rift.  

A commercial version of this is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2016, but Mr Pulijala– now studying for a PhD at the University of Huddersfield – has managed to get his hands on the developer version for his research.

INTERACTIVE: The Oculus Rift headset allows students to experience a 360 degree surgery and also touch the patient

INTERACTIVE: The Oculus Rift headset allows students to experience a 360 degree surgery and also touch the patient

Learning through observation and hands-on participation are important aspects of education for surgical trainees, medical and dental students.

“During these sessions the trainees learn by observing the procedures in real time,” the local researcher explained.

“But the problem is that not everybody can see what is happening. This is especially the case in crowded operating rooms where surgical trainees perform multiple duties.

“Also in surgeries confined to oral and maxillofacial zone, as the structures are complex and densely enclosed in a confined space, it is very hard to observe and learn.

“Further, a reduction in surgical training hours is severely affecting the training of surgeons.”

As result, he continued, that four-out-of-ten surgical trainees are not confident in performing the procedure.  

So he is developing a tool which helps them to virtually participate in an operation.

His PhD project aims to provide trainee surgeons with close-up, unrestricted, 360-degree view of a surgical procedure that has the potential to be a massive improvement on the operating room sessions in surgical training.

“If you are a trainee surgeon, wearing an Oculus Rift, you will see the surgical procedure in an operating room environment and also able to ‘touch’ the skull of the patient and interact with it,” Mr Pulijala added.

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