VR Lends an Eye to Trainee Surgeons

Genentech’s VR tool to train more than 2,200 retinal specialists

Here’s another signal that virtual reality (VR) is becoming a real tool for professionals.

Last month, Genentech, a biotechnology company that’s now a subsidiary of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, announced that it has developed a VR tool for training eye surgeons to treat age-related macular degeneration. The tool is in clinical trials. The surgical procedure involves the delicate process of implanting a tiny device, about the size of a grain of rice, in the eye, gradually releasing the drug to treat the condition.

Current treatments for age-related macular degeneration require eye injections as frequently as every month, causing a great deal of discomfort to patients.

If the device being used in the clinical trial gets approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, Genentech plans to use VR to train more than 2,200 retinal specialists in the US to administer the treatment.

The company expects VR to become a major component of the training process that enables surgeons to master this procedure. Trainee doctors will wear VR headsets to view realistic digital representations of the surgical procedure. Genentech’s VR tool is designed to recreate all the possible permutations of the processes and complications that can happen during the surgical procedure. It then uses this comprehensive knowledge to train surgeons and ensure they’re ready and well-prepared for the real operation. Surgeons performing the delicate eye procedure can be trained and primed for the task using a wearable device backed by advanced software.

Should Genentech’s innovation gets the green light from the regulator, it would be further validation of VR for professional uses, now deployed as a serious learning tool. We’ve previously talked about how the technology is being tapped in the enterprise sector by the likes of Walmart (see Walmart to Deploy Oculus Headsets in US Stores).

The use of virtual and augmented reality in vertical markets such as healthcare and engineering was a consistent theme at the recent MWC, where there were numerous showcases. It was interesting that Microsoft used a healthcare scenario for one of its flagship demonstrations of its newly announced HoloLens 2 headset.

Interest in VR has been spotty among consumers, but there are real enterprise uses on the horizon that could become the lead driver for the technology during these early years.