Friday February 08, 2019

Genentech Clinical Trials Are Using Virtual Reality to Train Eye Surgeons

Genentech has started a clinical trial for an eye implant, the size of a grain of rice, that will treat wet age-related macular degeneration by continuously releasing a drug to treat the disease. More than 1 million people over the age of 50 are affected by the disease. Genentech has invested well over $1 million in virtual reality (VR) equipment and the development of a surgical training program to use VR to train 150 eye surgeons to perform the surgery. If the FDA approves the eye implant in the upcoming years, the company expects to use VR to train an additional 2,200 retina specialists to master the procedure. The device will relieve the patients of having to visit the doctor monthly. The drug that Genentech received FDA approval for in 2006 has reduced the rate of blindness from the disease by 50%.

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"Historically, surgeons had to learn on patients. What we're trying to do here is see all the possible permutations that can occur, in virtual reality, so that when [the surgeons] are actually doing this on a patient, they're ready," said Anthony Adamis, senior vice president of development innovation for Genentech. The surgeons use a workstation that includes a virtual reality headset and a physical replica of the human eye and replicas of surgical tools. Surgeons are trained in virtual reality on how to implant the device that contains the drug and also how to refill the device. The surgeons can move the physical replicas of tools onto the physical replica of the human eye, which also appear digitized in the headset, to simulate the act of surgery. "Virtual reality is really going to make sure that every surgeon is as ready as they possibly can be to perform these surgeries," Dr. Brittain said.