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Brent Seales
Enhancing Minimally Invasive Surgery

by Jeff Worley & Robin Roenker

When surgeons undertake a laparoscopy, a minimally invasive abdominal surgery, their eyes are fixed not on the patient, but on an operating-room monitor. There, images taken by the fiber-optic camera within the surgical instrument itself, the laparoscope, are projected.

Photo of Brent SealesThat's the way the surgery has traditionally been done, but Brent Seales, an associate professor of computer science, has set out to enhance this process with the help of computers.

His project, dubbed REVEAL (Reconstruction, Enhancement, Visualization, and Ergonomic Assessment for Laparoscopy), envisions a networked operating room of the future, where computers and surgical instruments are vitally connected. The result: an enriched and more efficient environment for surgeons to work.

"We can provide the doctor with richer cues, which are extracted automatically by the computing system," says Seales. "With the networked system, the information available to the surgeon can be much more sophisticated than just what comes from the camera directly."

Along with the camera images from the surgical tool, such a networked system also could display on the operating room monitor valuable information such as the distance between the instrument and the targeted tissue, the degree of pressure being applied to the instrument, and the speed at which it is moving toward the target. Eventually, all of this information could be available in a 3-D display, providing a much more realistic vantage point than the 2-D monitors currently available.

With the system Seales envisions, surgeons could also easily call up and refer to computer-based data, such as preoperatively scanned images of a tumor, for example, for comparison during surgery.

"Our goal is to allow surgeons to do what they do, only better and more safely," Seales says.

While the current project deals specifically with laparoscopy, the technology behind it—which allows surgeons to interface with clusters of computers and with each other in real-time—could eventually be applied to nearly any minimally invasive surgery (MIS). The technology can also be used as a training tool, simulating real-life surgery scenarios. With such a training aid, a greater number of surgeons may be able to achieve high levels of skill with MIS techniques, allowing the procedure to be offered more widely even in non-metropolitan settings.

About Brent Seales

Brent Seales's other current research projects include EDUCE (Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration)—which utilizes technology to digitally read and preserve damaged manuscripts—and a digital library project in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico. The common ground in his work: digital imaging. "I guess if you have a hammer, then you're always looking for a nail," says Seales, who came to UK in 1992. "But I see how digital imaging can help in all these situations, so there’s a commonality there."

Seales Research Team