Virtual reality (VR) headsets are far from the piece of novelty tech kit they once were. Doctors at Angers University hospital in France have hooked up a patient to VR glasses to help perform brain surgery.
The operation was performed on January 27, 2016, to remove an aggressive cancerous tumor from the patient's brain in a region controlling sight. The tumor had already taken the sight from one eye, and doctors feared the operation could disturb the remaining vision in the other.
As with most brain surgery, the patient remained conscious while the operation was being performed. By creating controlled sensory input in the brain with the VR, the doctors were able to keep tabs on how certain functions – particularly vision – were being affected by the operation. The patient's VR experience was therefore kept very simple and manageable, purely involving "luminous objects" that moved out of the patient's peripheral vision.
VR headsets "open the way to greater precision, and allow us to envision procedures that were not possible up to now, such as the removal of otherwise inaccessible brain tumors," Philippe Menei, a neurosurgeon at Angers hospital, told AFP.
"By totally controlling what the patient sees and hears, we can put him in situations that allow us to do tests on certain (neural) connections that were not possible before."
With the tumor successfully removed and the patient’s partial vision still intact, the hospital team are pleased with the results. As part of the procedure, the patient will undergo a course of chemotherapy.
This is the first time this technique has been used, and the same team of surgeons and physicians plan to use it again in the coming months. They’ve even teased the idea of special headsets for children, which could be in practice before the end of the year.