Brain surgeons in training practice on a simulator

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- You've heard the old expression, "It's not brain surgery." But what if it is? Nobody wants their operation to be the surgeon's first. Now it doesn't really have to be.

Dr. Jeremy Peterson grew up playing video games. Now the neurosurgeon-in-training at the K.U. School of Medicine is taking his skills to a different level. He's practicing brain surgery on a simulator. He's viewing 3-D images of an actual patient at K.U. Hospital who had an aneurysm that needed to be clipped off.

"You can kinda measure out the size of clip that you might need during the o.r.," said Dr. Peterson as he did the measuring on the simulator.

It's all about preparing neurosurgery residents for real brains, real surgeries. Dr. Paul Camarata has done hundreds of those over the years.

"It's fairly daunting the first time you're having a brain exposed and you're asked to go in and take a tumor out," said Dr. Camarata, the K.U. Chair of Neurosurgery.

Using the simulator, it's not so daunting. Dr. Peterson gets the feel of brain tissue from the simulator, and the feel of using an ultrasound device to pulverize the tumor. There's even the sound of it. It's not identical to the real thing.

"The tension you feel when you're operating it isn't quite where it needs to be. It's not quite realistic, but it's very close," said Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Camarata says eventually, software will allow the residents to practice a specific case in the days before the patient's operation.

"I can take my residents in here and say, 'How are you going to position the head for this particular surgery?' And they'll say, 'Like this.' I'll say, 'That's wrong. You can't get to the tumor from that approach,'" said Dr. Camarata.

There's no clear evidence yet that the simulator leads to better outcomes for patients, but Dr. Peterson believes it will.

"I think it's gonna be much safer for them," he said.

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