Surgeons of the future will use "augmented reality" to give them a 3D or holographic view of the internal organs of the patient they are operating on, according to researchers who are developing the technology and putting it through clinical trials.
A 3D map that includes everything the surgeon needs to see and navigate around to reach the area to be operated on can be displayed in the operating theatre via a computer screen or headset.
The augmented reality picture of blood vessels, organs, bones and tissue is produced by superimposing computer-generated images onto real-life ones from instruments such as a surgical microscope.
Data gathered from clinical scans and a video camera trained on the patient are used to add a virtual view of the operation. This makes it much easier for the surgeon to see where a tumour, for example, lies within the body during surgical procedures.
Researchers at King's College London have been working with surgeons at Guy's Hospital to take the idea into the operating theatre, and now Bangor University has set up a new centre to research, develop and teach augmented reality technology and techniques.
The computational imagery science group at King's is seeking commercial sponsorship following its success in developing augmented reality for use in operations on tumours at the base of the skull.
David Hawkes, who heads the group, said the big "computational challenge" was to apply the technology to operations on areas of the body where organs and tissue were more liable to move around.
"The 3D map needs to be squashed and squished to reflect the movement of the patient," he explained.
Nigel John, head of Bangor's new high-performance visual and medical graphics unit, said more sophisticated display devices were becoming available that could provide a holographic view of the operation.
As well as making operations less risky and invasive, the technology could revolutionise surgeons' preparations and training, he said.
"One of the great advantages is that we can develop simulators to model various surgical procedures exactly, enabling surgeons to practise without risk to real-life patients," he added.