UCLA Spotlight

X-box + math = virtual surgery

  • Published Aug 31, 2009 8:15 AM

Follow Joseph Teran, professor of Applied Mathematics at UCLA, around campus as he discusses virtual surgery and the power of applied math with Dr. Carmack Holmes of the Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology (CASIT).

Named one of the “brightest people alive” by Discover Magazine, Teran is using mathematics to enable surgeons to practice on a three-dimensional “digital double” of a patient before performing an actual surgery.

“The idea is pretty simple: Make a video game that is predictive for surgical procedures with 3-D graphics, just like Playstation or X-box,” said Teran.

Making virtual surgery a reality will require solving mathematical equations, as well as making progress in computational geometry and computer science.

Tissue, muscle and skin are elastic and behave like a spring, Teran said, so how human tissue responds to a surgeon is based on partial differential equations.

“Most of the behavior of everyday life can be described with mathematical equations,” he said. “It’s very difficult to reproduce natural phenomena without math.” How far off is this virtual surgery?

“A three-dimensional double of you can be made, but it would now take 20 people six to nine months,” Teran said. “In the future, one person will be able to do it in minutes. It’s going to happen. Our job as applied mathematicians is to make these technologies increasingly viable.”

Discover Magazine: 20 Best Brains Under 40 (including two UCLA professors, Terence Tao and Joseph Teran)