Surgical Theater Technology

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is one of only six children’s hospitals in the world to use Surgical Theater, a 3-D virtual reality (VR) simulation platform originally developed for fighter pilots. Surgical Theater allows viewers to enter and “fly through” vivid and detailed digital models of a patient’s brain. The platform boosts every stage of surgical care, from patient education to critical planning, rehearsal, and execution.

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How does Surgical Theater help?

The simulator allows surgeons, patients, and parents to move around inside the patient’s virtual brain and examine any part of it from any angle. Such visualization power helps in many ways:

  • Surgeons can choose what kinds of tools and procedures will be most appropriate for removing or treating epileptic tissue, brain tumors, aneurysms, complex arterial venous malformations (AVMs), or other spinal issues.
  • Surgeons can plan the entire surgical strategy (opening the skull, the best path to the location of the surgery) toward a tumor. Surgeons can clearly see boundaries of brain structures and tumors, which are rendered in sharp detail and bright colors.
  • Patients and families understand a patient’s condition and the surgical procedure or procedures that can help the patient.
  • Surgeons can consult the Surgical Theater platform at any moment during surgery to “move” and look around structures they will encounter during the procedure.

How does Surgical Theater work?

  • The platform integrates CT and MRI scans as well as advanced postprocessing images of the highways in the brain such as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and functional MRI (fMRI) to highlight areas in the brain responsible for motor, speech, or visual function. A 3-D image of the brain is created that depicts the detailed anatomy as well as tumors.
  • Users put on a VR headset that immerses them in the digital environment. Game-like interfaces allow users to move through the virtual environments and to interact with brain structures.

Where does Surgical Theater help most?

  • Brain tumor surgery.
  • Complex skull base surgery.
  • Epilepsy surgery.
  • Vascular pathologies, such as aneurysms or AVMs (arteriovenous malformations).
  • Complex spine tumors and deformity surgery.