Virtual Reality technology helps separate conjoined twins in Brazil

In recent years, virtual reality technology has transformed from a sci-fi pipe dream to a widely used tool in gaming, job training, and increasingly healthcare.

VR headsets are already being used to perform routine vision tests, treat conditions ranging from lazy eye to lower back pain, and, perhaps most impressively, provide pre-operative training and real-time guidance for surgeons performing procedures.

The life-saving potential of that latest app is now on full display, as doctors in Brazil and the UK this week reported the success of virtual reality-guided surgery to separate twins who were joined at the skull.
According to Gemini Untwined, the London-based charity that facilitated the procedure, the Brazilian twins Arthur and Bernardo were born craniopagus, an extremely rare condition in which twins are born with their skulls and, often, some brain tissue and blood vessels fused together.

After experts told the twins medical team in Rio de Janeiro that a separation surgery was impossible, they turned to Gemini Untwined and its founder, Noor Ul Owase Jeelani, M.B.B.S., who was able to work with the team from the Instituto Estadual do Brain Paulo de Rio. Niemeyer to successfully complete the procedure.

The bicontinental team used CT and MRI scans of the twins to build virtual reality models of the twins, then spent months using the technology to perform the surgery, which was one of the most complex separation procedures on record. He also risked additional complications because, at almost four years old, Arthur and Bernardo are “the oldest craniopagus twins with a brain fused to be separated,” according to Gemini Untwined.

However, with virtual reality-guided practice runs, the actual surgery went off without a hitch, the charity reported. It took a team of nearly 100 doctors and seven separate surgeries, the last two of which took a total of 33 hours.

Arthur and Bernardo will now begin six months of rehabilitation at the Rio hospital.


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