Virtual surgery technology lets medical students train with hands-on simulations


A virtual reality platform that provides surgeons-in-training with realistic, hands-on simulations promises to transform the way medical students learn surgical techniques and better prepare them for careers in the operating room.

The platform, Osso VR, takes users into a virtual operating room, where they can pick up and use instruments with a high level of precision. Users put on a VR headset that displays a virtual operating room and hold two controllers that track one-to-one with real-life hand movements and respond to these movements with kinesthetic feedback that mimics the feeling of performing surgical procedures.

Osso VR was recently named the winner of the U.S. Department of Education’s EdSim Challenge, a competition to design the next-generation of simulations to strengthen career and technical education. The challenge called on the virtual reality, video game developer and educational technology communities to submit concepts for immersive simulations that will prepare students for a globally competitive workforce and generate an ecosystem of virtual and augmented reality technology in education.

Osso VR was selected from among five finalists out of nearly 250 submissions to EdSim. Each finalist received $50,000 in cash as well as in-kind prizes. For capturing the top honor in the competition, Osso VR will receive $430,000 in cash plus additional in-kind prizes from IBM and Microsoft.

Michael Wooten, the Education Department’s deputy assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education, said that Osso VR’s immersive environment “will enhance the career and technical education students are receiving along their career pathways in the healthcare field.”

Currently, surgeons learn new techniques by working on cadavers. “What we’re expected to do when we’re learning a new surgical technique is fly out to a remote cadaver course,” said Justin Barad, an orthopedic surgeon, co-founder and CEO of Osso VR, and former game developer. “We get a chance to practice in a hands-on way on a cadaver, and we only get to do that once. Imagine studying for a test and then taking that test six months later with no option to practice in between.”

Barad added that “Osso VR allows you to practice modern surgical techniques anytime, anywhere, in a hands-on manner. We’re working to increase the adoption of new medical technology, improve patient outcomes and democratize access to modern surgical techniques.”

Tom Krummel, co-director of Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, a professor emeritus at the Stanford University Medical School and chair of Osso VR’s scientific advisory board, said that the platform can help “bring new surgical techniques and technologies to patients and solve one of the most pressing problems associated with educating providers around the world today.”