The NHS worked with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) to use augmented reality (AR) software to help train surgeons in the UK and remote areas of Africa including Zimbabwe and Malawi on hyper-real 3D-printed models of human organs.
The project saw a collaboration between NHS Highland, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Vivolution Ltd., KWWK Ltd, 4c Engineering, and Aseptium.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a large proportion of traditional surgical training, often performed in hospitals, was either postponed or cancelled. As a result, there was a drive to remove barriers to training and allow trainee surgeons to perform “surgery” at home.
Following initial development, it became clear the idea could be used to support surgical training in remote areas as well.
Backed by funding from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, the NMIS Digital team successfully developed AR technology that allows users to scan physical models of organs developed by Organlike, which are made from hyper-realistic aqua gel and designed to mimic the texture of human tissue.
This scan generates a digital representation of the organ displayed on the trainee’s phone and provides instructions that feedback when a procedure is completed.
Augmented reality is the perfect complementary technology to accompany our models and this partnership is really exciting. With in person learning limited by restrictions on access to facilities and resources, this technology could help trainee surgeons who can’t currently access facilities to work in their own space. Our hope is that our product will form an important part of future training programmes across the world.
Professor Will Shu, founder and director of Organlike
400 boxes, consisting of 3D-printed bio-synthetic organs, real surgical instruments, and a mobile phone holder, were delivered to medical students in the UK, to enable them to continue learning during the pandemic. As well as helping train surgeons in the UK, 150 kits were sent to less developed areas of the world where training facilities are scarce or non-existent.
The project won further funding with the Global Surgical Training Challenge 2021 - funded by a US charity Intuitive Foundation - and is currently rolling out its product to a wider community of surgeons, health institutions and global medical device companies.
Organlike is also continuing to develop its 3D printing techniques, with a longer-term vision to bring organic 3D printers and inks to widespread use for health providers.