US IGNITE: Exploring ultrafast networks for training surgeons using virtual reality based environments, NSF Computer and Networking Systems

The project focuses on developing and achieving technology milestones in the area of medicine and healthcare. We have already achieved 2 major milestones showcasing the capability of the next Internet in supporting medical education and training in hospitals and medical universities. As part of this US Ignite initiative, we have demonstrated the capabilities of an unique Virtual Reality (VR) based simulation environment that surgeons can actually use to train orthopedic surgical medical residents.  This initiative focuses on practical applications which will benefit medical hospitals and healthcare delivery.  Some of the networking techniques can be viewed as belonging to umbrella of smart cyber physical technologies; they exploit the capabilities of Global Environment for Network Innovation (GENI)'s national test bed infrastructure.  In particular, we have shown that the ultra-fast communication networks are effective in linking expert surgeons in different hospitals with medical trainees at many geographically distributed locations. The high-definition multimedia streaming and haptic interfaces associated with the VR environment enable trainees to remotely observe, participate and practice surgical techniques using advanced Internet computing technologies and principles (including software defined networking SDN).
The virtual environments are being used at Texas Tech Health Sciences Centers (TTHSC) in El Paso as part of this demonstration initiative.  Dr. Miguel Pirela-Cruz, (Dept Head of Orthopaedic Surgery) is leading these interactions with surgeons and medical residents.  The use of such advanced cyber infrastructure also lays the foundation for reducing health care costs in hospitals and medical education programs.  It also is a precursor to the creation of smart cyber cities where the use of such advanced cyber physical tools will become commonplace.
Our initiative developed network based simulation technology that enables medical students to learn the appropriate way of performing orthopedic surgery. The traditional way of surgical teaching involves students first merely observing a ‘live’ surgery and gradually progressing to assisting experienced surgeons.  Medical residents also learn through performing surgeries on cadavers; however, these approaches have limitations such as availability, cost and the remote possibility of infections, which limit their usefulness. A Virtual Reality based simulation environment is a practical compromise for addressing these concerns. The networked based capability allows a doctor or a student to access these training tools for healthcare through thin clients and from a variety of interfaces.


Dr. Miguel Pirela-Cruz (an orthopedic surgeon) interacts with our network based surgical simulator using a haptic interface

We are working with Dr. Miguel Pirela-Cruz at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center (TTHSC) in El Paso, Texas.


View of the Virtual Environment for orthopedic surgery planning and simulation