A surgeon accidently kills a patient, undoes the error and starts over again. Can mathematics make such science fiction a reality?
The day is rapidly approaching when your surgeon can practice on your "digital double" a virtual you before performing an actual surgery, according to UCLA mathematician Joseph Teran, who is helping to make virtual surgery a viable technology. The advantages will save lives, he believes.
"You can fail spectacularly with no consequences when you use a simulator and then learn from your mistakes," said Teran, 30, who joined UCLA's mathematics department in July. "If you make errors, you can undo them just as if you're typing in a Word document and you make a mistake, you undo it. Starting over is a big benefit of the simulation.
"Surgical simulation is coming, there is no question about it," he said. "It's a cheaper alternative to cadavers and a safer alternative to patients."
How would virtual surgery work?
"The ideal situation would be when patients come in for a procedure, they get scanned and a three-dimensional digital double is generated; I mean a digital double you on the computer, including your internal organs," Teran said. "The surgeon first does surgery on the virtual you. With a simulator, a surgeon can practice a procedure tens or hundreds of times. You could have a patient in a small town scanned while a surgeon hundreds or thousands of miles away practices the surgery. The patient then flies out for the surgery. We have to solve mathematical algorithms so what the surgeon does on the computer mimics real life."
How far off is this virtual surgery?
"A three-dimensional double of you can be made, but it would now take 20 people six to nine months," Teran said. "In the future, one person will be able to do it in minutes. It's going to happen, and it will allow surgeons to make fewer mistakes on actual patients. The only limit
|Contact: Stuart Wolpert|
University of California - Los Angeles