Technology gives neurosurgeons a unique view inside your head

Virtual reality may already be in your living room if you play video games, but now, it's making its way into the operating room.
Published: Oct. 2, 2019 at 6:10 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Virtual reality is entering the operating room. New technology is giving Norton Children's neurosurgeons a chance to actually see inside a child's skull and practice a procedure before they ever step into an operating room.

Norton Children's Hospital is the first pediatric hospital in the region to offer Surgical Theater, virtual reality (VR) technology that creates an immersive 3D view of a patient's skull and brain.

Dr. Ian Mutchnick, a neurosurgeon with Norton Children's Neurosurgery.
Dr. Ian Mutchnick, a neurosurgeon with Norton Children's Neurosurgery.(Source: Steven Richard, WAVE 3 News)

Using VR goggles and a video game controller, Surgical Theater allows doctors, patients and their families to "fly into" the patient's head. This allows a look into the brain to see and understand the relationship of surgical issues — such as a tumor or lesion — to the child's surrounding brain.

“Standard controller and one joystick will move you up and down and left and right,” Surgical Theater Program Lead Andrew Carlson said. “The other will move forward and back and rotate. I can hand this to a kid and nine times out of 10, they know what to do.”

Surgical Theater is also giving kids a chance to understand their condition from the inside out.

“Currently, neurosurgeons rely on multiple series of 2D images in order to guide decision-making for brain surgery,” said Dr. Ian Mutchnick, a neurosurgeon with Norton Children’s Neurosurgery. “Having this new technology really helps us with surgical planning and execution, and allows us to better educate patients and families about their treatment options before we set foot in the operating room.”

Mutchnick said two-dimensional scans, like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT), have been used for decades to diagnose and treat neurological conditions. However, Mutchnick said it is hard to understand all the important relationships that go into a good neurosurgical decision with the images alone.

With Surgical Theater, the neurosurgeon takes 2D images and combines them to create a 360-degree, color VR model of the skull, brain and many important anatomic details. Using the VR headset and controller, the surgeon can guide a family through their child’s brain -- inside and out -- seeing the anatomy from all angles. It gives doctors a focus.

“You don’t have to look at 30 two-dimensional images to get a sense of the bone lesion,” Mutchnick said.

The simulation also allows surgeons to practice with different surgical tools so they know the best equipment to use for each individual case.

Surgical Theater also offers an operating room mode in which the same technology is accessible during the actual procedure. The technology assists the surgeon in seeing in real-time where his or her tools are within the brain and helping navigate them through the surgery as planned.

Norton Children’s Hospital expects to use Surgical Theater on more than 100 patients a year.

Surgical Theater was made possible through the Children’s Hospital Foundation with support from the community. The foundation is working to raise additional funds to fully implement the technology. You can help by donating at

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