As approaches to surgery continue to grow, one University of Central Arkansas professor has been developing tools to contribute to technology-based advancements.
Tansel Halic, associate professor of computer science, and a team of student researchers have developed two pieces of technology to assist with surgical trainings. The Virtual Arthroscopic Tear Diagnosis and Evaluation Platform (VATDEP) is a simulation model designed to train surgeons for rotator cuff surgery, and the Virtual Fundamentals Arthroscopic Skill Trainer (VFAST) is programmed to help build surgical skills.
Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive operation on a joint using a flexible fiber-optic camera called an arthroscope.
In 2018, Halic’s VFAST project was awarded a $297,027 Arkansas IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Research Development grant, which is funded from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant under the Institutional Development Award Program of the National Institute of Health. He has also received a $325,451 grant from INBRE to support the VATDEP’s development.
Often, Halic said, cadavers or living patients are used in training for rotator cuff surgery.
“That’s the reason we wanted to introduce a virtual environment where they can simply get these skills easily, or maybe in a safe manner, without hurting anybody,” said Halic, who noted the VATDEP is in its fourth year of development.
The VATDEP contains tools that simulate shoulder tears and surgical instruments in a virtual environment. It features a fiber-optic camera and is equipped with a monitor to project images from the camera in real time. Some items for the project were even 3D printed on campus.
Halic and his team of student researchers have been collaborating with a shoulder and elbow surgery expert at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to fine-tune the simulator.
A total of nine students have assisted in the VATDEP’s creation and progress. They helped oversee the use of hardware devices, software development and algorithm creation that will make training with the VATDEP possible.
“Before I came here, I had limited information about computer graphics,” said Mustafa Tunc ’18, whose thesis involved the VATDEP. “I learned everything about graphics here in this lab.”
The VFAST, on the other hand, takes the standard Fundamentals of Arthroscopic Surgery Training (FAST) tool and translates its benefits to a virtual environment.
With use of the portable FAST tool, residents can perform various psychomotor tasks to build skills like arthroscope camera navigation, ambidexterity, anchor placement and knot tying. Tasks can include using a small grasper to transfer small rings to other pegs and navigating a small ball through a maze. FAST training also requires the presence of an expert surgeon to score residents. Through the VFAST, however, that requirement will be eliminated.
“The whole idea is with the virtual simulation, we can control everything, and we can simply record all the metrics about your performance,” Halic said. “We can give you a score about where you are without needing anybody.”
The VFAST can also create advanced levels of each task, which the current FAST does not offer.
”I think that this will be the future technology,” said Kutay Macit, a computer science graduate student. “In the future, we will not be dependent on, for education, these physical devices.”
Doga Demirel ’18, who received a master’s in computer science from UCA, was one of the first students to work on the VFAST. He led the task analysis portion of the project, which required understanding each training task and its phases.
“I think what’s most interesting here is what we do is to actually help surgeons get the experience that they need to help their patients,” he said. “That’s very important.”
Halic and his team note that it can take years to wrap up projects like the VATDEP and VFAST.
“Our ultimate goal is to simply create a virtual platform for surgeons so they can improve and master their skills so that we don’t risk patients anymore,” Halic said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”