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Virtual Reality for Brain Surgery

New LVHN Neurosurgeon brings innovative technology to the Lehigh Valley


Virtual reality (VR) allows everyday people to fly to new lands in video games. Augmented reality (AR) takes fighter pilots through scenarios training them for the unexpected. Artificial Intelligence (AI) predicts what people will write in texts before they’ve completed a sentence. Extended reality (XR) is an overarching term for all three of these technologies. And now brain surgeons and patients also can use XR to fly through the brain. Why is this so important? If you find yourself in need of complex brain surgery, not only can you better visualize your upcoming procedure, your surgeon also gains additional insight. Walter Jean, MD, Lehigh Valley Health Network Chief of Neurosurgery, is the only physician in the area using this groundbreaking technology.

Helping patients visualize their brain

“We meet hundreds of patients and explain to them our surgical plan. That communication can be difficult at times,” Jean says. “Once we have a patient’s brain scans loaded into the augmented reality software, they have the ability to see their own anatomy to gain a better understanding.” When patients place the headset over their eyes, they are transported to a virtual replica of their own brain. This technology, called Surgical Theater®, allows them to feel as though they are flying through their own anatomy. The experience offers a visual explanation that often is easier to understand than medical terminology.

This technology, called Surgical Theater®, allows them to feel as though they are flying through their own anatomy.

Creating a plan of attack

The second benefit of Surgical Theater is that it allows brain surgeons to create a surgery plan by simulating different scenarios to find the best approach. “The genesis of the technology is from air fighter pilots. The founders of the company discovered they could use the same technology in the medical field,” Jean says. Just like fighter pilots, brain surgeons are able to practice unique scenarios to be fully prepared for their mission.

X-ray vision

By now, you are probably imagining XR as superhero powers that assist a hero in doing important work. If that image hadn’t come to mind yet, X-ray vision should seal the deal. Extended reality allows surgeons to operate with “X-ray” vision to reach their targets safely and to stay out of danger by avoiding critical “no-fly” zones in the brain. “Every patient’s problem is unique. We design the surgical approach for every operation to fit the individual’s problem,” Jean says.

About Walter Jean, MD

Jean joined Lehigh Valley Health Network in February. He is a board-certified neurosurgeon with expertise in complex intracranial surgery. Jean is known worldwide for his expertise in complex brain surgery. His acclaimed textbook, “Skull Base Surgery: Strategies,” is used by neurosurgeons across the globe to learn about open and endoscopic skull base surgery. As a pioneer, Jean utilizes virtual reality in neurosurgery and brings this revolutionary technology to the Lehigh Valley.

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