iphone brain surgery neurosurgery

Photo courtesy of Dr. Mauricio Mandel.

The newest breakthrough tool for brain surgeons? Some researchers think it could be your old iPhone.

A new study published today in the found that iPhones could help replace expensive equipment that surgeons use during some of the most delicate operations on the brain.

Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo Medical School and Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Brazil wanted to see if surgical equipment called neuro endoscopes could be used with an iPhone to reduce the cost of pricey equipment.

Neuro endoscopes are devices with a tiny camera on one end that can be inserted into the brain or skull during delicate brain operations.

The devices can rapidly speed up the recovery process. This is because they allow surgeons to perform minimally invasive operations.

However, the costs can be prohibitive. These devices normally need to be paired with expensive video equipment, so that the surgeon can see on a large screen exactly where they’re operating.

Looking for cheaper alternatives

The Brazilian researchers wanted to know if there was a cheaper way than using surgical video equipment, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

In this study, surgeons used fully charged iPhone 4, 5, and 6 devices in combination with neuro endoscopes to assist with 42 operations between 2010 and 2015.

The surgeons used the iPhones on patients who underwent procedures for health conditions that included aneurysms, birth defects, and swelling of the brain.

The team found there were no complications associated with using the iPhones during these surgeries. The surgeons never needed to revert back to traditional equipment.

In certain areas, they found that the smartphones were easier to use.

“Because the smartphone allowed the surgeon to visualize the surgical field without the need for cables, freedom of movement was enhanced,” the authors wrote.

The authors also said that since the phone is mounted directly on the back of the neuro endoscope during surgery right above the operation site, it can be a more intuitive screen for the surgeon to look at.

In this setup, surgeons don’t have to turn to look at a screen.

“One unexpected advantage of using this integrated system is the improved experience offered by the placement of a smartphone screen in front of an endoscope, which makes use of the endoscope more intuitive and enhances 3-D perception,” the study authors wrote.

Going mobile in the operating room

Although a small study, this technology could especially help hospitals in rural or poorer areas that are less likely to have money for expensive equipment.

Or it could be part of a traveling operating unit during emergencies.

The study authors also explained that virtually every new smartphone could probably be utilized in these kinds of surgeries.

“Compared with traditional video stacks, smartphones are relatively inexpensive and portable, and they do not require an external power supply,” they said. “The presence of high-quality camera optics enables real-time image acquisition, storage, manipulation, and transmission via a spectrum of wireless technologies.”

Dr. John Boockvar, vice chair of neurosurgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said that he thought the study’s findings were interesting, although not groundbreaking.

“In an emergency situation, it could be used on the battlefield. It could be used in developing countries. It surely would be a cheap alternative to some of the high-tech stuff that we do,” he said.

Boockvar adds that utilizing smartphones in brain surgery is just another example of how breakthrough technology is being repurposed to save lives in the operating room.

Boockvar said that in his operating room, he uses 3-D technology originally created for entertainment like video games and movies to help better visualize surgical sites.

“It’s more like real life,” he said.