Innovative research creates virtual reality tool to help doctors in training

Apr 05, 2022
Dr. Doga Demirel, assistant chair of Florida Polytechnic University’s Computer Science Department

Dr. Doga Demirel, assistant chair of Florida Polytechnic University’s Computer Science Department, is working on research to develop virtual reality surgical simulators to assist in physician education and training.

Dr. Doga Demirel, assistant chair of Florida Polytechnic University’s Computer Science Department, is creating a leading-edge virtual reality tool to help doctors learn critical medical procedures commonly performed in emergency rooms, during surgery, and in other medical scenarios.

VORTeX – the Virtual Operating Room Team Experience – is a virtual reality surgical simulator to assist in physician education and training. The work is in collaboration with researchers from the University of Central Arkansas, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

“People from different parts of the U.S. can be in a virtual environment at the same time and work on a patient together and gain experience,” Demirel said. “An anesthesiologist can be in Florida while a surgeon is in Seattle, and they can learn those skills through this virtual reality simulator and they don’t need to have someone physically present with them in the room.”

The painstaking process of developing the simulations includes building complex, lifelike hand poses and movements that can be easily controlled with the virtual reality device. It also involves the use of inverse kinematics and skinning algorithms to make 3D mesh body parts look human.

Endotracheal intubation of a patient is one of the first procedures the research team has developed for the project. The team also developed a virtual reality application for doctors preparing to safely enter and exit the operating room. This donning and doffing simulator allows users to practice the specific procedures required to become sterile and ready to operate, as well as safely remove contaminated gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment.

“Especially now with the COVID virus, we don’t want doctors or patients to catch anything, so we created these simulators to help them learn the procedure without actually doing it in an operating room,” Demirel said. “Since you’re in a small operating room environment, anything can happen, and we want to make sure we minimize these risks and help reinforce the correct procedures.”

The virtual simulator is being tested by physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and will be refined based on their feedback.

If shown to be successful, the VORTeX framework can be expanded and applied to other medical procedures.

Demirel has long been interested in developing virtual surgical simulators, which he said offer advantages over traditional training methods like apprenticeship, which can place patients at risk; cadavers, which are one-time use and only applicable to certain procedures; animals, which have different anatomy; and mannequins, which are costly and lack human realism.

“With surgical simulators, you can create patient-specific scenarios and you can work on that specific patient days or weeks before and have experience with their anatomy,” Demirel said. “You can get quantitative feedback with performance metrics and you can see what you did wrong, why you did it wrong, and what you can do to fix it.”


Lydia Guzmán
Director of Communications