(A CT scan of a liver–this is what surgeons had to rely on, until now)
There are two competing trends in medical technology development. One borrows tricks from product design to make med tech consumer friendly and easy to use. The other traffics in innovation–whiz-bang tech that’s both super-expensive (a market flooded with new ideas can’t sort out a natural cost for them) and potentially pointless.
The latest news of doctors practicing liver surgery on virtual, 3-D models, is a bit of both. On the one hand, Project Odysseus, as it’s called, is a medical video game–complete with networking capabilities that let doctors around the world collaborate on a single 3-D model (Warcraft, anyone?) and a surgery simulator so they can feel texture and tissue resistance while they poke around. On the other, it’s a break-through. Until now, surgeons were using 2-D images–they couldn’t share them, and they couldn’t explore them. Odysseus stitches together those images (from MRI and CT scans). Seems like a no-brainer. Better images=smarter surgery=better health care.
Not so fast. After almost four years of development (at 7 million euros) by German, French, and Norwegian teams, the system is ready for the market, but the jury’s still out on whether it’ll become the new standard. Said Luc Soler, one of the French team, “Everyone says it is vital to use this system, but we have to wait five years after surgery to prove the benefit of the software on survival rates. So it is too soon to see all the benefits yet.”