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First-ever virtual surgery performed

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A Halifax neurosurgeon made history this week when he used Canadian-developed technology to remove a simulated brain tumour less than 24 hours before conducting the real operation.

On Monday, the work of dozens of experts came to fruition when Dr. David Clarke used a virtual model of Ellen Wright's brain to remove a simulated benign tumour before removing the actual tumour the following morning. "It looks like the real thing and it feels like the real thing, and all of that is specific to the patient you're about to operate on," Clarke said Thursday of the procedure, which is the first of its kind in the world.

"So when we're removing the tumour, it's really Ellen's tumour we're removing."

The simulator is part of a three-year project in partnership with the National Research Council that will see a team of about 50 people from 10 centres across Canada change the face of brain surgery. Dr. Ryan D'Arcy, a neuroscientist who worked on the development of the device, said the simulation is modelled after a specific patient before the operation, is realistic in looks and even touch, and uses the same instruments as the actual procedure.

"To create the simulator... we take the patient and acquire a large amount of high-quality (MRI) images of not only the structure, but also images of the functions... like motor or speech," D'Arcy said.

"Then a team ---- through complex mathematics and engineering -- creates a device that allows you to see in three dimensions, so you have a realistic environment where the brain pulsates and bleeds. But you also can feel it, so when you actually interact with the (real) brain, you know what it feels like."

-- Canwest News Service

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2009 A18

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