Laparoscopic gastric banding is a common surgical treatment for morbid obesity and the most critical factor in the success of the operation lies in the hands of the surgeon – who needs the proficiency and skill to insert slender, handheld tools into the body of the patient. A team of interdisciplinary researchers, led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has recently won a US$2.3 million federal grant to develop a touch-sensitive virtual reality simulator that will realistically replicate how performing a gastric band operation feels – making it ideal for developing and teaching fundamental surgical skills and for assessing physicians wanting to be certified as a laparoscopic surgeon.
Being proficient at using remote control tools to perform minimally invasive laparoscopic procedures is critical in successfully performing laparoscopic surgery. Although there are only a handful of basic tasks needed to successfully perform the operation – for example tying knots, cutting in very specific patterns and stitching – becoming skilled in these surgical techniques takes time and practice. This new testing and training system that uses haptic technology – or touch feedback – will allow surgeons to practice and refine the surgical skills needed to perform a laparoscopic procedure in their own virtual operating theater.