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Digital technologies promote precision medicine

wuzhenwic.org Updated: 2021-12-15

A surgical operation was recently conducted on a patient having coxitis and osteonecrosis of the femoral head (ONFH). It was based on a "mixed reality (MR) plus direct anterior approach (DAA)" hip replacement technology developed by Xiong Yan, deputy director of the Department of Orthopedics at Daping Hospital of the Army Specialized Medical Center of Army Medical University.

Virtual imaging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and MR have been widely used in the field of medicine and increased its precision. They are expected to assist doctors by breaking the boundary between the digital virtual world and the physical real world.

Xiong explained that the use of MR technology can add virtual images of real anatomical structures. It is like wearing a pair of "perspective eyes" for a doctor, who can then carry out more accurate surgical procedures.


Virtual imaging technologies such as VR, AR and MR have been widely used in the field of medicine. [Photo/IC]

The surgery recently performed by Xiong and her team was to remove the damaged part and replace it with an artificial joint prosthesis.

With the MR holographic projection, the surgeon could quickly position the internal structure of the patient's surgical point, the pelvic acetabulum, at the standard angle. The acetabulum could be precisely polished and the prosthesis could be precisely placed without assistance of an incision or nail rod. The surgery took only about one hour and the whole procedure was precise, minimally invasive and nondestructive.

Xiong said the medical industry has long been interested in using virtual imaging technologies in surgery and many hospitals at home and abroad have researched it.


MR technology can help a doctor give more accurate diagnosis and carry on more precise surgical treatments for patients. [Photo/IC]

As early as April 2019, a totally-laparoscopic Whipple procedure, also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy, was used on a patient with an abdominal tumor. The surgery was jointly conducted by the Department of Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery at Xiangya Hospital and the School of Materials Science and Engineering of Central South University. It was China’s first procedure of its kind to be assisted by MR technology.

In addition to surgery, virtual imaging technologies have also been used in medical imaging, telemedicine and medical and health education in recent years.

For example, the AR-based ultrasound scanning guidance platform can provide real-world AR scanning guidance through handheld devices and realize timely and standardized ultrasound image acquisition and screening that focuses on positioning and image acquisition problems.

Supported by 5G, virtual imaging technology can raise visibility and reduce risks brought by time delay, which greatly improves accuracy of remote diagnoses.

What's more, virtual imaging technologies are playing a role in treatment of psychiatric disorders in some countries, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, phantom limb pain, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and cognitive dysfunction.

However, Xiong said that clinical application of virtual imaging technologies is still in the research and development stage.

The "MR plus medical industry" continues to need the cooperation of talents in various fields like medicine, iconography, image processing and software engineering to improve the individualized accuracy and automatic matching that can provide highly-precise technical support for future surgeries.

Although application of virtual imaging technologies in the medical field is still in its initial stage, it is expected to bring disruptive changes to the field in the near future, according to Zhang Jiyang, office director of the Center for Big Data and Artificial Intelligence of Zhongshan Hospital of Fudan University.

Zhang pointed out that the innovation in the medical industry takes high investment and needs time to change traditional medical habits and treatment concepts, which means that some emerging technology-based medical solutions remain in early stages of clinical trials and commercialization.

Potential uncertainty of the market, unreasonable positioning of new medical technologies and security of patients' personal information may also be obstacles for innovative medical projects.

However, he said that he believed that by timely summarization of users' feedback from the application scenarios and integration of virtual reality technologies with medical clouds, big data, clinical decision support systems and medical robots, a new path of medical treatment might be developed.


Robots may play a key role in future surgeries. [Photo/IC]

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