Smart-glove to help surgeons hone their finger work

Medical drama Grey’s Anatomy brought the songs of Irish pop stars Damien Rice, Snow Patrol, and Kodaline to a global audience but might soon be showing off the work of Irish scientists.

RCSI research fellow Shazrinizam Shaharan with the smart-sensor glove being developed by Tyndall National Institute, which is undergoing trialling and data collection at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.  Picture: Maxwells

A smart-sensor glove designed to help improve trainee surgeons’ skills at stitching and other tasks needing intricate finger work is undergoing final trialling and data collection at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The researchers there asked the Tyndall National Institute to adapt the wireless, sensor technology used in a smart glove it had designed for arthritis and stroke rehabilitation.

The RCSI team can now map the tiniest movements of each part of the hand, which means the techniques of the finest surgeons in the world and those just beginning their training can be easily compared.

The 3D imaging software developed in tandem with the product means students and teachers can both see and track their progress from data transmitted wirelessly from 48 sensors in the glove, with data being compiled at the RCSI setting the benchmarks of best and worst practice.

“When you’re having your work assessed, it’s based on one person’s opinion, so I felt there should be a more objective tool. The idea is that a computer can now tell you instead if you’re good or bad,” said research fellow and trainee plastic surgeon Shazrinizam Shaharan.

RCSI learning development manager Donncha Ryan said the focus for now is on fine-tuning its use as an aid to teaching surgeons of the future. “Things like suturing, knot-tying and stitching are core skills that are taught very early on, and trainee surgeons will often do the start and the end of surgical procedures, including closing patients up.”

For now, the glove is only being used in assessments at RCSI, where Ms Shaharan and colleagues will continue validating the data.

The glove was being tried out by participants at this week’s Tyndall Industry Days event in Cork, where industry and research partners have been hearing about ongoing and future work at the centre that generates €32m a year in research income. Further development is also likely, which could eventually lead to the innovation being shared with teaching hospitals just like Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital, which features in Grey’s Anatomy.

Meanwhile, work continues on developing the technology at Tyndall in Cork, with potentials being explored that includes sensory feedback to the trainee surgeon’s glove so they feel what their virtual patient feels.

“For instance, they might feel if they are tying stitches too tight, or if they are pushing the virtual skin too hard,” said Brendan O’Flynn, who leads Tyndall’s wireless sensor network group.

The smart-glove technology could be applied anywhere, including sports or music or anywhere else using hand and finger motion, he said.

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