Graduate students design training devices for surgeons

Rachel Cross

The laparoscopy device may be the future way of training for aspiring medical surgeons. Improving reaction times, memory and hand-eye coordination are just a few of the benefits of this innovative type of training device, which Grand Valley State University graduate students helped bring about.

Gayla Jewell, an education specialist at Grand Rapids Medical Education Partners, said the idea of the laparoscopy training simulation came about a couple of years ago when surgical residents came in and demonstrated the technique.

“Before hearing about the laparoscopy simulation, our training was very simple, but with this new device, it is more complex and can perform more capabilities,” Jewell said.

A laparoscopy surgery is primarily performed on the abdomen, where the surgeon makes two or three incisions. On one end of the tool is a camera scope and the other end is a scalpel, she said. “Our simple training devices weren’t providing residents with the preparation they needed,” Jewell said. “My job is to provide education and innovation.”

The Laparoscopic Trainer prototype was originally built by Paul Shields in the summer of 2011.

“This trainer performs like a video game in that it tracks reaction time,” Shields said. “There is an interactive surface place inside the existing training device, and it lights up and enables the person to view what they’re doing on a monitor to help them gain familiarity.”

Shields said typically the first year of training is all simulation driven or assisting an experienced surgeon with a small task, such as holding a camera. The next year is procedures on animals, and the following year is actual surgeries.

Before graduating in May of 2012 with a degree in biomedical engineering at GVSU, Shields did a preliminary study with six to eight graduate students to determine the effectiveness of the training device. This study showed positive results in using the device, including faster improvement.

William Rytlewski, a biomedical engineering student in the School of Engineering, took over the project after Shields graduated. Rytlewski is working on steps to help modify the training device, including adding a case to house it, as well as making it wireless.

“The goal of this device is to make practicing interesting,” Rytlewski said. “Other ways of practicing can be quite boring and hard to assess, and this device is a way cheaper alternative than an actual simulation.”

Rytlewski said the major challenge of this training device is that it can be hard for people to get used to getting their vision off a 2-dimensional television screen, as well as gaining control of using the instruments.

“Our goal is that by using our device, residents will become quicker and more accurate surgeons because they are able to set goals and gain feedback,” Rytlewski said. “The benefits of knowing how to do a laparoscopy surgery is that patients recover faster and the surgery is much less manipulating and invasive. However, vision based off the camera takes a lot of skill to do things efficiently and correctly without damaging anything.”

After making slight improvements with the device, Rytlewski said that he plans to do a larger study with medical students to test the effectiveness of the laparoscopic device. If this has positive results, medical schools may place them in hospitals. In addition, he said that in the future GRMEP may do a larger study with medical residents as well.
[email protected]