Radiologist’s research highlights the potential value of virtual reality

Researchers have developed virtual reality (VR) technology that allows users to feel as if they are inside a patient’s blood vessels as they insert a catheter. Wayne Monsky, MD, PhD, an interventional radiologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine (UW Medicine) in Seattle, helped build the technology.

“By following an anatomically correct, dynamic, 3D map of a phantom patient's vessels, Monsky navigates the catheter through junctions and angles,” according to a recent post on the UW Medicine blog. “The catheter's tip is equipped with sensors that visually represent its exact location to the VR headset.”

Monsky and two co-authors published research related to their VR breakthrough in the March 2019 issue of the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology. Their study found that a VR headset and electromagnetic sensors can help specialists successfully steer the catheter faster than before while exposing the patient to less radiation. A survey completed after the study confirmed that users thought the VR improved “ease, precision, confidence and efficiency.”

Monsky specifically spoke about the importance of the reduction in radiation dose, as quoted in the blog post.

“We always try to minimalize every patient’s exposure, but these complex procedures are currently performed with x-ray exposure to the patient, in the name of curing their disease,” he said. “(With VR), we think we can come away from a lot of that—hopefully all of it.”

Monsky and his two colleagues have created Pyrus Medical, a new healthcare startup aimed at commercializing the team’s VR technology.