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Ehsan Azimi wearing VER goggles
Ehsan Azimi, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science, has developed an augmented reality headset to help brain surgeons train for high-risk operations.

Head-Mounted Goggles Let Brain Surgeons “See” Where to Cut

Augmented reality could change the way surgeons are taught.

When neurosurgeons cut into the brain, they must be precise. A single slip could mean disaster. That is what motivated Ehsan Azimi, a grad student at Johns Hopkins University, to develop an augmented reality device that would help brain surgeons to navigate inside a patient’s head and visualize important landmarks during surgeries. The device uses a head-mounted display the surgeon wears that shows them exactly where they need to cut and insert their surgical tools.

The inventor is testing his device by using it during a procedure called a bedside ventriculostomy, in which surgeons drill a hole in the brain and insert a catheter to drain cerebrospinal fluid and reduce pressure inside the skull. Though frequently performed, the procedure carries risks. Many drilled holes miss the target, and misplacing the catheter (a common occurrence) can cause direct injury or bleeding.

Currently, for many procedures, surgeons must operate using anatomical landmarks on the skin to estimate the position of internal targets. Using the VER goggles, the new device lets surgeons locate critical regions, such as the entry point and target point while seeing data superimposed on the actual patient’s anatomy. The device also sends real-time feedback to the surgeon, allowing for constant adjustment during the procedure and proper placement of the catheter. Moreover, the device guides surgeons throughout the operation and lets other surgeons monitor and train new surgeons.

Azimi and his team have filed a patent and are in talks with several companies about licensing parts of the technology. Azimi is also considering starting his own company: “My dream is to deploy this work and make this project a reality. I really think we can improve how surgery is taught and practiced.”

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