Kettering University may change how doctors learn surgery

Mar 22, 2013

Photo of Mehrdad Zadeh, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering  at Kettering University
Mehrdad Zadeh, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kettering University
Credit Courtesy: Kettering University

Kettering University in Flint is developing technology that may soon change how doctors learn surgical procedures.

Mehrdad Zadeh is Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering  at Kettering.  He says it’s a process using "haptic feedback."

Patrick Hayes is with Kettering University and explains:

Haptics technology allows a user to ‘touch’ virtual objects by using forces, vibrations or movements of the user in simulations. It has a wide variety of practical uses in various industries, but students in the Research in Engineering and Collaborative Haptics (REACH) Lab have found the technology particularly useful in coming up with practical applications of haptics in the local medical community.

Professor Zadeh says the technology is actually similar to some video games and simulates the feel of working with real flesh.

“The temperature of a surface in a remote location”, he says, “and the friction of a surface in a remote location…they are all possibly resistant to our movement that we can simulate to a user.”

Zadeh says the team is broken into three areas:

Photo of Surgical simulator controls.
Surgical simulator controls.
Credit Courtesy: Kettering University

  • Electrical Engineers who work on the optical sensors
  • Computer Scientists and Engineers who developed the  interface for the Virtual Reality display
  • Mechanical Engineers worked on the actual mechanical part of the device.

He says this is where the surgeons at Genesys Regional Medical Center are critical.  They are collaborating to help provide a realistic experience to simulate a laparoscopic adrenalectomy, or removal of the adrenal gland.

Photo of: Dr. Michael Kia
Dr. Michael Kia
Credit courtesy: Genesis Regional Medical Center

Michael Kia is an advanced laparoscopic surgeon at Genesys Regional Medical Center.  He says traditionally residents have learned these skills on-the-job as an apprenticeship to a skilled surgeon. 

But Kia says over the last decade, medical schools have been incorporating more of this kind of technology to include more education and training outside of the operating room.

"And to take certain aspects of training into simulation to better prepare the residents as they go into live surgery," he says.

photo of Kettering students Tyler Garavaglia (left) and Reza Yousefian (right) discussing the surgical simulator.
Kettering students Tyler Garavaglia (left) and Reza Yousefian (right) discussing the surgical simulator.
Credit Courtesy: Kettering University

One of the limitations of simulation, has been providing feedback to the surgeon’s hands.  Kia says it’s sort of like how a professional driver learns to “feel the road” to finesse a car’s performance.   Surgeons need that type of sensitivity in surgery.

So he says one of the greatest challenges may have been communicating what the physician needs and feels.  Doctors know exactly how a device feels in the hand.  But engineers would know intimately how things are manufactured.  Kia notes that bringing those two worlds together took a lot of patience on both sides.

He says simulators may never be completely realistic, but you can better train the mind and the eye to what the hand feels.

"So while it may not be exactly what you feel in the operating room, it helps to build the feeling your hands work while watching with your eye (on a remote TV display) and I guess it really is like someone getting good at a video game," Kia says.

Looking forward, Kia says "when it’s complete, the greatest benefit will be for early residents with the least experience.  You have such a farther distance for them to go to make that connect between their eyes and their hands that the simulator can act as that bridge."

He adds that Kettering University’s team is working toward building sensors into the actual instruments used in the surgical procedure.  That will allow a whole new layer of teaching. 

"As the attending surgeon performing the procedures, not only can the residents see the activity," Kia says, "but there’ll be a graphic representation for the amount of force used to perform that task.  And when a resident is performing that task – the attending physician can see if they’re using too much or too little force."

He notes that this type of simulation has been in the minds of doctors and engineers for years, but the technology finally exists to make it happen.

- Chris Zollars, Michigan Radio Newsroom