Neurosurgeon uses daughter’s head to create surgery simulator

Published: 13-Nov-2013

Lifelike simulator designed to teach basic surgical techniques

A new neurosurgical simulator designed to teach basic surgical techniques has been launched.

Known as Rowena, the design of the two-part plastic simulator was named after and modelled on the head of the inventor’s own daughter.

Developed by practising neurosurgeon, Richard Ashpole, Rowena stands for Realistic Operative Workstation for Educating Neurosurgical Apprentices. It consists of a moulded plastic base with internal skull anatomy on which is fixed a replaceable upper cranium with scalp, bone and dural layers. Inside the skull is a realistic plastic brain.

To make the device, Ashpole, a consultant neurosurgeon at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, used the head of his daughter Rowena, now aged 14, basing his designs for the model on her skull size and shape. It was created in Wales by a company that normally works on special effects for big-budget Hollywood movies.

“It was essential that the Rowena model be as close to a real skull as possible, both internally and externally, so it seemed logical to base the design on a real person,” he said. “Fortunately my daughter was happy to help, and sat for over an hour-and-a-half while the modelmakers did their work. Rowena has been developed over many months to ensure all layers of the cranium behave as realistically as possible. As a result, it offers a unique, cutting-edge teaching aid to train the next generation of neurosurgeons.”

Rowena has the ability to be used with a three-point headrest to teach anatomical landmarks and positioning. The realistic scalp can be used with Raney clips to turn different flaps as well as standard burr holes and ICP monitoring devices. It can also be drilled with a Hudson brace, or a Gigli saw and guide, as well as a variety of high-speed drills. The underlying dura (complete with vascular markings) can then be hitched up and opened in various ways to expose the brain beneath. Bone flaps can be replaced and fixed with sutures or a variety of plates and screws.

For closure, the dura is sutured, the bone flap replaced and fixed with any proprietary fixation system and the scalp stapled. Fractures can be reproduced with a hammer and fragments can be elevated and fixed. Rowena is compatible with both CT and MRI and so can be used with neuro navigation systems to help plan surgical approaches.

“These features make Rowena an affordable and comprehensive option for neurosurgical teaching departments,” said Richard. “We want to offer teaching hospitals a reusable option for training surgeons which reduces costs, but doesn’t compromise the quality of training.”

Rowena is to be distributed by Delta Surgical.

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