One of the operating theatres is the first in North America to have a CT scanner right in the room. The scanner uses x-rays to create thin cross-section images through bone and soft tissue, then assembles them into three-dimensional representations. A pre-operative scan enables surgeons to build a computer model of the affected area of the patient’s body—a model on which they can perform virtual surgery in order to develop the best strategy for the actual procedure.
It’s in the second operating room, however, that Dr. Ellis’ “instrument landing” scenario unfolds. A computer-based system of video cameras and sensors keeps track of the exact spatial positioning of surgical instruments in relation to the patient. By combining this information with the computer model from the CT scanner, the system can provide surgeons with a three-dimensional view of what they’re doing from any angle—not just what they can see through the incision. And because the model also contains reference views and other information generated by the virtual surgery, it provides surgeons with visual guidance at each step of the procedure—the “glide path” in Dr. Ellis’ analogy.
The suite of operating rooms—funded in part by an investment from the Ontario Innovation Trust—represents the culmination of over a decade of research by Dr. Ellis and his colleagues into computer-aided surgery. Much of the work has focused on orthopedics, but Dr. Ellis sees a wide range of applications for the new O.R. technology. “We’re going to be able to build on what we’ve learned in orthopedics, and take that into the soft tissues inside the body. The CT, for instance, will be very useful in guiding the immediate treatment of stroke.”
He also sees these kinds of surgical tools as the wave of the future in treating full-body trauma. “We’ll be able to use the CT to find brain and general head injuries, as well as to locate any pooling blood in the abdomen, and any bone fractures.” That information could then be used in tandem with the optical tracking technology in the next room to guide emergency surgery. “It’s perfect,” says Dr. Ellis. “This kind of technology is going to give us the opportunity to deliver some truly innovative health care.”