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France performs world’s first virtual reality surgery

Doctors at the Avicenne de Bobigny hospital (Ile-de-France) have successfully completed the world’s first ever augmented-reality surgical operation using 3D models and a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Doctor Thomas Grégory, head of orthopedic and traumatic surgery at the university teaching hospital, was able to “see through the skin of his patient” before the shoulder operation, through the use of 3D imaging technology and models created from the 80-year-old patient ahead of time.

During the key part of the operation, which lasted for 45 minutes, the doctors in France were joined by video link by four surgeons from South Korea, the USA, and the UK, who provided help via online call programme Skype.

Dr Grégory also performed the procedure while wearing a “mixed reality” headset from Microsoft’s Hololens, which he could control with his movements and his voice, allowing him to see 3D images projected onto the anatomy of the patient during the operation, as well as enabling him to consult advisory videos and supporting medical documents.

He had begun to practice on the device two months previously, he said.

It was a global first for this kind of operation, and purported to help the surgeons understand - to a much higher degree than normal - what they would find during the surgery, allowing them to prepare more and improve the quality of care overall.

The headset also allowed the surgeons to operate with a previously unprecedented “level of precision”, that was less invasive, more effective, and less prone to infection after the fact.

“The holy grail for a doctor is to [find a way] to see what we cannot see with our own eyes; the patient’s skeleton in every detail. That is what [this allows] us to do,” explained Grégory, speaking to French news source FranceInfo.

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