In miraculous medical news, virtual reality (VR) has helped surgeons successfully separate conjoined twins with craniopagus. Craniopagus describes a condition where twins are born with fused brains. It is an incredibly rare condition, and—this probably goes without saying—extremely challenging to treat.
“In some ways, these operations are considered the hardest of our time,” one of the lead surgeons of the procedure and founder of the charity Gemini Untwined Noor ul Owase Jeelani told PA Media. “To do it in virtual reality was just really man-on-Mars stuff,” he added.
The twins in question are three-year-olds Bernardo and Arthur from Brazil. In the past, surgeons had tried and failed to detach the boys on multiple occasions. This resulted in a buildup of scar tissue which made the chances of a successful separation worse.
VR technology adding just the right edge
The international team of surgeons used VR technology to limit risks, predict outcomes, and circumvent the added obstacles that past surgeries had left behind.
Using MRI and CT scans as blueprints, VR engineers worked with the surgeons to create perfect digital modelings of the boys’ fused anatomy. With this detailed and rigorous process, the team was able to “see” into the twin’s brains and were able to trial different techniques before attempting surgery in real life.
Though this isn’t the first time that VR has been used to help separate children with craniopagus, Jeelani explains that what makes this instance so special is that it was the first time surgeons in multiple countries met in a digital operating room to practice the procedure collaboratively.
“It’s just wonderful,” Jeelani said, referring to the VR tech. “It’s really great to see the anatomy and do the surgery before you actually put the children at any risk.”
Bringing the virtual into real life
The total procedure in real life required the participation of 100 medical personnel and took 27 hours to complete. The surgery was a success and the twins are recovering well. The success of the operation may be the window of opportunity needed for other medical professionals to apply VR to even more surgical interventions.
“The model of what we have done, I think, can and should be replicated for other super-rare conditions,” Jeelani concluded. To hear more about this incredible surgery, watch this BBC interview with Dr. Jeelani.