Microsoft’s HoloLens is a better surgical aid than ultrasound

A study found hologram overlays even more effective than the former gold standard.

Cleveland Clinic

Surgeons can soon expect to see more meaningful applications of augmented reality. In an in-human pilot study from the Cleveland Clinic, researchers compared Microsoft’s HoloLens to the "gold standard" for surgery — ultrasound — to guide surgeons’ removal of liver tumors in five patients. The hologram offered more visibility than the two-dimensional ultrasound and proved just as accurate. The results were presented virtually at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting.

The power of holograms — In addition to ultrasounds and other two-dimensional scans, surgeons used HoloLens to get a three-dimensional look at their patients. The headset worked in concert with a mini GPS-like system that electromagnetically tracks tools and relevant markers within the patient. While the hologram allows for better visualizations, the tracking tools maintain accuracy despite the movement created by a patient’s breathing.

A relay of the HoloLens hologram during procedure to remove a liver tumor. Cleveland Clinic

Microsoft's headset has shown promise as a medical tool since it was first released, with previous tests in 2017 hinting at its potential applications, and mixed reality technology has previously been used by surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic to assist with a face transplant. MediView, which helped fund this new study, is one of two companies expected to get this technology to more surgeons as early as 2021, according to Wired.

This is just the beginning — By being able to see 3D renderings overlaid on actual organs, the HoloLens enables clearer and more dynamic operating procedures. Beyond a static hologram map, surgeons can use voice commands or gestures to see different scans without looking up from the patient. Out of the gate, holographic surgical guidance will have far-reaching applications for cancer treatment, heart surgery, and plastic surgery, but the technology is still generally limited to guidance. Like bankruptcy or a pandemic, though, it's likely to come suddenly at first, and then all at once.