Published by BBC NEWS - 28th September 2023
  • Published
Dummy patient used for brain surgery training

Brain surgery using artificial intelligence could be possible within two years, making it safer and more effective, a leading neurosurgeon says.

Trainee surgeons are working with the new AI technology, to learn more precise keyhole brain surgery.

Developed at University College London, it highlights small tumours and critical structures such as blood vessels at the centre of the brain.

The government says it could be “a real game-changer” for healthcare in the UK.

Critical structures

Brain surgery is precise and painstaking – straying a millimetre the wrong way could kill a patient instantly.

Avoiding damaging the pituitary gland, the size of a grape, at the centre of the brain, is critical. It controls all the body’s hormones – and any problems with it can cause blindness.

“If you go too small with your approach, then you risk not removing enough of the tumour,” National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery consultant neurosurgeon Hani Marcus says.

“If you go too large, you risk damaging these really critical structures.”

The AI system has analysed more than 200 videos of this type of pituitary surgery, reaching, in 10 months, a level of experience it would take a surgeon 10 years to gain.

A surgeon using the AI trainer

Image source, BBC

“Surgeons like myself – even if you’re very experienced – can, with the help of AI, do a better job to find that boundary than without it,” Mr Marcus says.

“You could, in a few years, have an AI system that has seen more operations than any human has ever or could ever see.”

Trainee Dr Nicola Newell also finds it “very helpful”.

“It helps me orientate myself during mock surgery and helps identify what steps and what stages are coming up next,” she says.

‘Marvel superhero’

AI government minister Viscount Camrose says: “AI makes everybody massively more productive whatever it is you do.

“It kind of almost makes you the Marvel superhero version of yourself.”

He said this type of technology could be a game-changer for healthcare, improving outcomes for everyone and offering a “very promising” future.

University College London (UCL) is one of 22 universities recently given government money to help revolutionise healthcare in the UK.

Engineers, clinicians and scientists are working together on the project at the Wellcome / Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences.

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