The Sensimmer Simulator: Game-Like, But Serious Business

Chicago-based technology firm ImmersiveTouch has been working in consultation with the Memphis-based Medical Education & Research Institute (MERI) on surgery simulator technology that looks and feels like a next-generation video game. The inventors say that while it might be video game-like, it has far more serious implications for medical training and surgery.

MERI does not have a financial stake in the company or in the simulator, but many of the doctors and surgeons who pass through the training center have offered their input in developing the product.

"We are engineers. We are not physicians," said Cristian Luciano, Sensimmer’s co-inventor and ImmersiveTouch vice president. "The needs that are coming from the physicians and surgeons drive the (product development) efforts as we produce solutions for them."

The core of the Sensimmer simulator is the "realistic visual and tactile responses to the user." Users wear special glasses to see real-time 3-D images of a real patient’s body, taken from either a CT scan or MRI, on a viewing screen. Below the screen are a stylus and a customized Wii remote that are used as surgical tools.

By pushing the stylus on the skin of the virtual patient, users can learn how to manipulate it. As Luciano puts it, "what you see is what you touch."

"Our initial usage has been for (medical) residents to be able to practice procedures before they actually go and do it on a cadaver," said Diana Kelly, MERI’s manager of institutional development.

The device has been widely used for training, but a few physicians use it to practice surgeries on real patients using their MRI or CT scan data. Luciano hopes that it can be used for more vigorous surgery training in the future.

The Sensimmer was developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago by Luciano and ImmersiveTouch CEO P. Pat Banerjee, both professors at the university. In development for seven years, the product has been on the market for three and is now in its second generation. Some of the product’s evolution has been a direct result from those at the MERI.

"They have the basic software down and what we’re trying to do is help them with the field part … to make it one step better so (surgeons) are better prepared by the time they’re actually on the patient," said Elizabeth Ostric, MERI executive director.

Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal

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