Augmented reality (AR) technology is lending ‘X-ray vision’ to surgeons in a series of innovative trials led by design and development firm Cambridge Consultants.

The prototype successfully demonstrated how an augmented system could transform surgical operations, while lowering risk and improving success rates.

Using Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, the researchers created an AR system which made it possible for surgeons to ‘see inside’ a patient’s body in real-time, while operating through minimally invasive keyhole openings.

The success of surgical procedures relies on viewing the right information at the right time, but the operating environment can often be busy, with limited access to real-time imaging technology.

The new AR system hopes to address this challenge by providing real-time 3D interactive images and data visualisation of patient records and operating information to accurately guide the surgeon through a procedure.

‘AR has the potential to fundamentally change the surgical experience by giving the surgeon a new dimension of information in an easy-to-use way,’ commented Simon Karger, head of surgical and interventional products at Cambridge Consultants.

He added: ‘While today’s platforms still need to mature before they are ready for clinical deployment, it is clear to us that the underlying technology holds great promise for critical applications like surgery.’

Several AR projects are emerging in the surgical field, including MedEXO Robotics’ system which uses the technology to create single view imaging for surgeons.

‘The doctor has to look at two images on two screens while manoeuvring two probes at the same time. This requires a lot of hand-eye coordination. This has long been the biggest problem regarding minimally invasive surgery,’ noted Catherine Chan Po-ling, a surgeon in Hong Kong and co-founder of MedEXO Robotics.

Chan’s process uses AR to layer one view over the other, allowing the surgeon to review both types of images on the same screen at the same time.

Despite these developments, many in the industry remain sceptical, arguing that AR is no replacement for human specialists and that any compromise could be fatal.