TRAINEE surgeons are set to use augmented reality (AR) software developed by a Scottish consortium to “operate” on hyper-real 3D-printed models of human body parts using a smartphone app.

Project partners – including industry-lead Organlike, which has produced the models of organs, NHS Highland, The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), Vivolution, KWWK Ltd, 4c Engineering and Aseptium – are working with the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) to deliver the immersive technology, which will be used in the UK and less developed parts of the world.

Backed by funding from the Innovate UK Sustainable Innovation Fund, they have already distributed 160 kits in the UK and three African countries, consisting of 3D-printed bio-synthetic organs, real surgical instruments and mobile phone holders.

Using the app, the AR technology is used to scan physical models of organs made from hyper-realistic aqua gel, designed to mimic the texture of human tissue. This generates a digital representation of the organ, which is displayed on the trainee’s phone and provides instructions that feed back when a procedure is successfully completed.

Trainees can also film their work for review from experienced surgical trainers.

The project is particularly valuable in the current climate, removing the need for trainees to rely on classroom cadavers to perfect their skills, a resource that has become scarce during the pandemic.

Digital and metrology lead for NMIS, Danny McMahon, said: “Our software works along with Organlike’s hyper-real models to provide guidance and training, as well as feedback on performance. While there is no replacement for the real thing, we can help prepare trainees for taking the next step in their training.

“Although coronavirus restrictions are lifting, we expect there to be an increasing demand for a more flexible approach to surgical training going forward. The application for this technology extends far beyond Scotland and although it’s still relatively early days for the project we are already excited about its potential.”

Professor Will Shu, Organlike founder and director, added: “Augmented reality is the perfect complementary technology to accompany our models and this partnership is really exciting.

“With in-person learning limited by restrictions on access to facilities and resources, this technology could help trainee surgeons who can’t currently access facilities to work in their own space.

“Our hope is that our product will form an important part of future training programmes across the world.”

Professor Angus Watson, member of the RCSEd council, added: “Surgical simulation represents the future for our profession.

“The public expect us to uphold the highest standards of surgical skill and care and the College has been at the forefront of this for over 500 years.

“I am particularly proud that we can make training opportunities equitable across the globe and I am delighted that this kit will be available both in Scotland and in Africa.”