A News Education Health — 16 November 2015

Boston Children’s Hospital’s simulator program, SIMPeds, has partnered with the special effects company Fractured FX to create realistic models of patients’ anatomy for surgical and medical training.

“This is the nexus of medicine and art, surgery and cinema,” says SIMPeds Director Peter Weinstock, MD, PhD at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The models, or “simulators,” will allow clinicians to practice and rehearse difficult or complex medical procedures without any risk to patients. Boston Children’s hopes to begin offering them commercially to other medical centers over the coming year, with Fractured FX handling the manufacturing.

The models not only look real but feel real. They incorporate artificial tissues that bleed and pulsate, manmade blood vessels that feel like the real thing when doctors insert a catheter and special gels that feel like brain tissue when an endoscope is guided through them.

Metro-Ad2“Getting the look and feel right is very important, particularly to surgeons and proceduralists,” says Weinstock. “To make simulations effective, you want to promote suspension of disbelief, to create an environment where everyone is believing that they’re working on a real child. Other simulators exist but their aesthetics and anatomy are fairly rudimentary, making it hard to keep people’s heads in the game. We’re excited to have these new simulators change that.”

From horror flicks to pediatric surgery

Fractured FX won an Emmy this fall for American Horror Story: Freak Show, but its work on The Knick, a Cinemax series about a New York City hospital in the early 1900s, with ultra-realistic surgical recreations—is what drew Weinstock’s attention. Boston Children’s and Fractured FX began discussions in 2014, and the company began prototyping trainers earlier this year together with SIMPeds’ SIMEngineering division.

“A lot of us had aspirations in medicine, and have collaborated with prosthesiologists to help improve prosthetics artistically,” says Fractured FX CEO Justin Raleigh. “We wanted to take our skills in special effects to try and help people. We’ve had to come up with new techniques to develop the elements you’d see in surgery, something we never had to do for film.”

The process of building a trainer begins with detailed drawings and a three-way knowledge exchange between Fractured FX, clinicians at Boston Children’s and SIMPeds experts in engineering, design and 3D printing. The Fractured FX team then starts experimenting with materials to simulate the look and feel of real body tissues—including brain tissue, muscles, bone, connective tissue, membranes around organs and even tumors, some of which are hard and rubbery, others very soft.

As the clinicians tinker with the trainers, they make comments that are recorded on video and shared with the Fractured FX team. “Then we iterate,” says Melissa Burke, SIMPeds director of operations.

Once the team achieves the right look and feel, the next steps are assembly and the final product. The trainers include inserts of the relevant anatomy that can be replaced when another clinician needs to train. “In the end, you’d be hard pressed to tell which images are real, and which the model,” says Burke.

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Doug Lynch

Doug is a career communications professional and writer. He enjoys writing about technology (he holds 6 US Patents), politics and sports.

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