New Pediatric Surgery VR Platform Aims to Bridge Gap in Surgery Access and Improve Safety for Children

Smile Train and BioDigital launch the first-ever cleft VR platform experience that allows medical professionals anywhere in the world to join virtual operating rooms together to learn, practice and simulate cleft and palate surgeries

two people using the BioDigital VSS

ORLANDO, FL — January 22, 2023. Today, Smile Train and BioDigital launched the first-ever cleft surgery virtual reality (VR) platform experience at the IMSH Conference in Orlando, Florida. The platform utilizes a “metaverse operating room” to simulate surgery on cleft lip and palate, a common birth condition that occurs when a baby’s lip or mouth does not form properly during pregnancy. The condition can cause difficulty with breathing, eating and speaking. If left untreated, a cleft lip or palate can be fatal.

Launched today, the Virtual Surgery Simulator (VSS) VR Extension is a brand new technology that will allow surgeons from all over the world to enter and collaborate in virtual operating rooms together. This new VR platform will not only support safer surgery and better outcomes for patients with clefts, but also advance health equity worldwide. This technology was designed to bring cost-effective education to medical professionals across the globe and to bridge the gap in access to life-saving surgical care. Though surgical treatment is an essential component of effective health care, a mere 6 percent of the 313 million procedures undertaken worldwide each year take place in the world’s poorest countries, where more than a third of the world’s population lives. Approximately 5 billion people have no access to safe, affordable, and timely surgical and anesthesia care.

There are several features that make this technology rollout unique among VR platforms, including:

  • A multi-user experience to allow for a feeling of presence inside a virtual operating room, even when clinicians are in separate locations (Cleft Learning Center) allowing for hands-on mentorship in the operating room even from afar;
  • An adaptable methodology such that other institutions and leaders of medical teams—even outside of the cleft specialty—can apply similar approaches to train simulated emergencies and best practices;
  • A network of cleft-focused clinicians eager to use this technology. The VR extension launched today builds on the existing Smile Train Virtual Surgery Simulator (VSS)—launched in 2012 as a free web- and mobile app-accessible surgical simulator providing instruction for cleft lip and palate repair from some of the world’s premier surgeons. In 11 years, the original VSS has provided healthcare professionals in 141 countries with essential information about cleft anatomy and surgical techniques for cleft lip and palate repair, and the new VSS VR extension will further improve surgeons’ ability to practice and safely provide this surgery;
  • Five modules that have already been produced (four anatomic tours including unilateral and bilateral lip, one unit on responding to a patient with an obstructed airway), and more modules currently under development;
  • The ability to draw on surfaces to indicate surgical markings;
  • Simulated steps that guide the clinician through the steps to save the patient's life during adverse events (Obstructed Airway module);
  • Guided tours of cleft anatomy, including a comparison of normal anatomy to bilateral and unilateral clefts anatomy; and
  • The VR system will leverage the world's largest 3D surgical cleft library.

“We have encouraged our trainees to utilize this tool which will certainly help them in understanding the complexities of cleft lip and palate surgery,” said Dr. Gopal Krishnan, a surgeon at the SDM College of Dental Sciences & Hospital in Hubli, India. “This is commendable work and will go a long way in educating not only senior surgeons but also residents who aspire to pursue a career as a cleft surgeon.”

“The Virtual Surgery Simulator VR extension represents a model for the future of global surgical training,” said Anne Arnold, Senior Director of Education and Training at Smile Train. “The technology allows for next-level accessibility for surgeons and surgeons in training. For example, if a resident program director has a resident who returns to her hometown, both can continue to meet in the metaverse with the senior surgeon providing hands-on mentorship from afar. And in the end, patients, families and communities will benefit the most from safer surgery and better access to care.”

“For over a decade we have been proud to support Smiletrain’s effort to train clinicians around the world using our virtual body cloud platform and now with advancements in virtual reality, to provide an even more immersive and collaborative training experience,” said Frank Sculli, CEO of BioDigital. “Breaking down physical barriers and expense to democratize the exchange of information between expert and novice clinicians is a major leap forward in training and health equity.”

To access the web-based simulator please visit https://smiletrain.biodigital.com/#/ to create a login or search “Smile Train Virtual Surgery Simulator” in the iPhone or Android store to download.

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About Smile Train: Smile Train empowers local medical professionals with training, funding, and resources to provide free cleft surgery and comprehensive cleft care to children in 90 countries globally. We advance a sustainable solution and scalable global health model for cleft treatment, drastically improving children’s lives, including their ability to eat, breathe, speak, and ultimately thrive. To learn more about how Smile Train's sustainable approach means donations have both an immediate and long-term impact, please visit smiletrain.org.

About BioDigital: BioDigital, Inc. is a New York-based biomedical software company dedicated to making health and the human body understandable to all people. Often referred to as “Google Maps for the Human Body,” the BioDigital Human platform is an interactive 3D, medically accurate, virtual map of the human body—composed of over 8,000 individually selectable anatomical structures, 1000+ simulated health conditions and treatments, and a toolkit to map and visualize data. This fully embeddable, cloud-based software is available in eight languages, on any desktop, mobile device, or in AR/VR for use within any educational or clinical workflow. BioDigital technology is used by leading pharmaceutical, medical device companies, medical schools, education publishers and U.S. health systems to help communicate complex health concepts and breakthrough treatments, powering over 100 million health conversations each year across the globe.

Press Contact:

Nicole Bell
Smile Train
Vice President, Public Relations
633 Third Ave, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10017
646.829.0996
nbell@smiletrain.org