Press release: Spinal surgeons use revolutionary lifelike simulator to test operations

RealSpine operation

Spinal surgeons in Southampton are using a revolutionary simulator complete with artificial bone, tissue and blood as part of a national training programme.

The device, known as RealSpine, enables teams to “operate” in theatre with their colleagues in real time and using all standard surgical instruments.

Conventionally, training is carried out using human bodies donated for research – cadavers – which don’t bleed and can’t be used in operating theatres and virtual simulation technology which can become outdated quickly.

Using RealSpine, as well as lifelike bone, tissue and blood, surgeons are faced with complications such as a tear or hole in the membrane surrounding the spinal cord which requires repair.

The simulation training event was carried out by Evan Davies, a consultant adult and paediatric spinal surgeon at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, in the operating theatres at Southampton General Hospital.


It is believed to be the first time in the UK surgeons and theatre staff have been able to train together in a “live” environment.

“This technology is a real simulator,” he explained. “The model feels like real bone and normal spinal tissues, it bleeds like a normal patient and it can create surgical complications.

“A lot of simulators are based on virtual digital environment that don’t give the same sensory feedback as regular surgery and contain expensive hardware and software that quickly becomes outdated and isn’t designed to work in a real time environment.

“The advantage of the RealSpine is you do the simulated operation in an operating theatre we normally work in, using instruments and working with scrub teams.”

He added: “This is the step between learning about an operation, seeing an operation performed by another surgeon and then a trainee performing the surgery – and having it as lifelike as possible is a major advantage.

“Conventional training is via cadavers but these cases aren’t anywhere near as effective as RealSpine as they don’t bleed, can’t be operated on in our normal theatres and have all the risks associated with using biological material.”

Mr Davies said the equipment can currently only be used through industry funding and is now calling for NHS support to incorporate the technology as standard in trainee programmes.

“We've so far only been able to hold this course through industry support but, long-term, we hope to look for NHS funding to be part of all spinal fellows’ induction training as they progress towards qualification.”

Posted on Friday 1 June 2018