Virtual Surgery

Publish date:
Updated on

Borrowing a page from computer gaming, a new virtual-reality knee project promises better diagnosis, surgical repair, and rehab of injured knees.

Here's how it works: MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) data of an injured knee is translated into a three-dimensional computer model. An orthopedic surgeon can then view any plane of the knee while simulating its movement, get an accurate picture of cartilage dama+ge, and actually test out different surgical scenarios. If the virtual surgery bombs, the surgeon tries something else. Nobody gets hurt.

Still in its trial phase, the model is being developed by Dr. Van C. Mow, director of orthopedic research at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail. Mow explains that during real-live surgery, an infrared signal from an arthroscope to the computer model creates a virtual arthroscope that mirrors the surgeon's. The resulting enhanced view on the computer screen allows for extremely precise ACL repair¿a ligament reattachment that's tight enough to stabilize the knee joint without crushing cartilage. After surgery, physical therapists will be able to hook up an exercise machine to the computerized knee model, letting them see the internal impact of different exercises.

Mow, who's been working on the futuristic project for 15 years, hopes that in about five years, the virtual knee will be widely used.