McGill University is partnering with CAE Healthcare, and DePuy Synthes Products, part of the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, to develop a Virtual Reality (VR) platform to train orthopedic and neurosurgeons in advanced spinal surgery techniques.

The new platform will leverage Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) technology and Finite Element Method (FEM) modeling to create a real-life surgical simulation environment using haptics – that will have the potential to drastically reduce the training time for spine surgeons. A major portion of funding for the project is being provided by The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and The Quebec Consortium for Industrial Research and Innovation in Medical Technology (MEDTEQ).

Spinal surgeries continue to grow in number while surgical procedures become more complex, according to the university. For example, spinal surgeries involving fusions in the U.S. grew to 413,171 cases in 2008 – a 240% increase over figures from 1998, according to the report Spinal Fusion in the United States: analysis of trends from 1998 to 2008 printed in Spine. Globally, the number of spine fusion surgeries is expected to reach 3.4 million in 2020, according to GlobalData Medi Point’s “Spinal Fusion – Global Analysis and Market Forecast. Despite this demand, training spine surgeons to use minimally-invasive spine (MIS) surgery techniques and reducing the learning curve remains one of the challenges facing the adoption of MIS technologies in spine surgery.

The new VR surgical training platform will have a visual and tactile interface a clinician interacts with by using surgical tools connected to haptic controls that simulate complex clinical pathologies and intraoperative challenges. The increased capacities of GPU-based computing will deliver real-time feedback to provide the sensory experience of actual open-spine surgery. Using VR as a surgical training method has been shown to result in improved patient care, superior accuracy and faster speeds for the surgeon.