Europe Medicine Science Technology UK

Virtual Reality – from gaming to saving lives

After a first deep cut the surgeon swaps his scalpel for an odd pen-shaped device. Nurses swab emerging blood before he carefully applies the pen, tissue exploding into vapour.

But there’s no smell of burned flesh, no shiver in the sterile cold of the dreary OR . Instead I sit in a chair, watching the procedure from the comfort of my own home.

In April 2016 the UK was the first country to stream an operation using 360-degree cameras. Through an app, a headset, and their smartphones, the world could watch live as doctors removed cancerous tissue from a patient’s bowel.

iCAST Emergencies

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While videos of operations have been around for a long time, the Virtual Reality approach makes healthcare more equitable, improving the training of surgeons worldwide.

Dr. Alan Bagnall and his team at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne belong to the pioneers using three-dimensional story-telling to prepare medics for the real thing.

You want to be taught in a way that doesn’t put patients at risk”, he said.

If I am teaching someone how to put a tube into an artery and get it wrong, a real person is going to be in pain or worse.”

Bagnall shows me a machine with two screens, a bunch of wires, and a full body mannequin. He introduced the sophisticated Swedish simulators in Newcastle to allow cardiologists, radiologists, and vascular surgeons in the making to immerse in realistic, every-day emergency scenarios.

With software drawing from real-life cases, even first year students get the opportunity to practise core skills to react to surgery complications without harming an actual patient.

We don’t want their learning curve on patients”, Bagnall said.

The technology is used to ease the transition from training to the clinical environment.”

The very authenticity, the haptic, and the sound that make Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality applications fun gimmicks have long helped to improve medicine in all areas.

Pediatric cardiologists stand in front of a library of heart defects, take aim and press the VR trigger to pull a workable 3D model. Vascular surgeons display a map of their patient’s blood vessels on their skin through AR. Neurosurgeons submerge into their patient’s brain to have a closer look before operating.

And this is only a small extract from the plethora of new disruptive technologies in the surgical armamentarium.

VR is also becoming a powerful tool in psychology. Using technology alongside therapy now allows conditions like phobias, pain management, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder to be treated.

In a world of diminishing NHS resources, Virtual Reality can be a money saver, too – technology that is not just available, and accessible but affordable.

Because of its advantages VR should be a no-brainer for doctors and hospitals”, Bagnall said. However, its huge potential comes with great responsibility.

There are also a number of limitations and legal pitfalls, the most dangerous of which certainly is data misuse.”

Nonetheless, the technology used to thrill virtual racing drivers or shoot marauding Vikings is now saving lives for good measure.

Feature Image: Brother UK – CC BY 2.0
Photo Credit: © Florian Vitello



Day two of Sunderland Airshow 2018 threatens to be a washout

A THUNDERSTORM had left them grim and grounded the night before.

But the hundreds of thousands who packed Sunderland’s promenade for day two of the city’s famous airshow – celebrating its 30th anniversary – enjoyed a rich reward.

World class pilots and daring international display teams took to the skies above the crowded seafront staging fly-pasts, stunts and aerobatics in rare military and civilian aircraft.

An ear-shattering highlight was the Eurofighter. One moment the deafening supersonic jet whooshed at a blue horizon, next it looped through the threatening dark sky over Souter lighthouse.

And any would-be fast flyer among the awe-struck spectators could try controlling the combat aircraft in a high-tech simulator on the ground – one of the myriad of land-based attractions.

One little fan, 2-year-old Solomon West, was too small to take the ride.

But he was dressed the part in his Red Arrow flight suit, his mum‘s large sunglasses a substitute for Aviators.

It’s our 10th time this year,” Helen said. “Solomon just turned two and it’s already his second air show.

For any North East resident, attending the airshow is a right of passage. This year the atmosphere is as great as ever and we have a good view of the stunts.”

Behind the scenes, a huge operation had been put in place with an army of volunteers making sure, the event ran safely and smoothly.

Sunderland council and public transport companies provided increased services, including parking, online maps of road closures, and additional busses. Metro-managers Nexus had anticipated the stream of visitors.

Customer Services Director Huw Lewis, said:

Metro plays a key role getting thousands of people to the Airshow, and we will have extra trains running to cope with the demand.”

There were staff at Seaburn station to get queues of people safely to the seafront and back onto the trains.

Children were given neon yellow wristbands with their names and addresses on them. Any who got separated could be picked up by their parents at lost person stands.

Not everything though, went according to plan.

As the wind was getting stronger, organisers cancelled all parachute-drops and pulled the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight, consisting of a Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster.

Northumbria Police also had to herd people back from the water’s edge as the sea level was rising and waves splashed against the seawall.

Regular visitors had come prepared with rainmacs and umbrellas. But despite the day threatening to become another washout, the weather stayed dry until the grande finale.

The famous Red Arrows closed the flight displays with some of their most iconic moves, including the tornado, corkscrew, python, and centenary split – a perfect match for the 100th anniversary of the RAF.

“It is a wonderful feeling to be able to celebrate the 30th show with an evening of incredible air displays.”, City Councellor John Kelly said.

But the fun didn’t end with the last trails of Red Arrow smoke. The Main stage at Cliffe Park became the main focus of attention with a vivid line up of live music till late night.

Photo Credit: © Florian Vitello
Europe Latin America

Salsa with Solano

Nolberto Solano sat in the middle of the bar, leaned into a conversation with friends. A short but feisty man joked, alternating rapidly between Spanish and English. The man talked, Solano listened.

The venue was near to empty with only a handful of people scattered all over the place, minding their own business. Shiny effigies of Inca gods alongside an impressive collection of Peruvian ornaments covered the walls, reflecting opaque party lights that left the room in semi-darkness.

When the company finally noticed me, the feisty man approached with a mischievous grin. “Bienvenido, welcome to Rumba – the only true Latin American Restobar in Newcastle”, he said while performing an intricate bow. His exuberant mannerism made Solano and his friends a mere backdrop of the scene. But Solano didn’t mind.

He had been inconspicuous most of the evening, leaving center stage to his extroverted friend. Except now, as Hector Lavoe’s salsa evergreen “Periódico de Ayer” (which translates as “Yesterday’s Newspaper”) opened up the dance floor, his facial features brightened.

May I?“, the football icon said to a woman next to me and a few moments later she twirled past the counter, the hem of her dress spiralling flirtatiously around her legs. After the dance he paid my first round. He smiled, observing the dancing crowd who had immersed in some catchy beats.

I saw contentment in a man who, at forty-something-years-old, had already achieved so much that he could now relax, lean back and enjoy other people’s experiences. When asked how he manages to keep such a low profile, he shook his head.

I’m, just a guy who’s good at kicking a ball”, the Newcastle United legend said. His dark eyes were cast down as he stared at his shoes like a shy shoolboy. Indeed, no one seemed to pay any special attention to one more dancer.

Being a footballer doesn’t make you more important than any other line of work”, he added, a man clearly humbled by a life of early hardship.

In Latin-America his story of struggle, being the youngest of seven children and playing football in the streets of Callao, is relatable for the public. The fact that Solano’s success-story actually produced a polite human being with a down-to-Earth manner, is yet another reason for Peruvians to adore their “Ñol”, who had already trotted back to the dance floor after paying a second round.

He signalled I come over, placing two heavy congas in front of me, starting to beat a drum. Once I had picked up the rhythm, he dug out a cheese grater and played it, the sound of a rattle. People cheered and some even joined in. Solano beamed.

When I lived in Newcastle, Salsa always lifted my heart. No matter how crazy football got, my band and friends always reminded me of who I am.”

After a third round, both dancing to and playing salsa music seemed easier. The guests had clearly enjoyed themselves. Solano grabbed his coat. The night still young, and with more Latin bars to choose from, his infectious grin was hard not to reciprocate. The man was in his element.

Photo Credit: Jcswayne – CC BY-SA 3.0

Agriculture Europe Science

Are bees really dying?

Bees are the world’s most important pollinators and are worth about £200m to British agriculture each year. In the UK alone, they are responsible for the pollination of more than 40 important food crops. Apocalyptic news of the death and disappearance of the buzzy insect leading to a deserted world without fruits and vegetables concern activists and consumers alike. But what truth is there in those dire forecasts? Are our bees really dying?


Let’s just spill it right away: yes, our pollinators are in immediate danger and we need to do something about it. However, many articles going around these days plainly couldn’t bee more wrong when talking about measurements to fight the insect mortality.