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3-D technology enters the operating room

March 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
It's been used in TV and movies. Now, the same technology that allowed moviegoers to experience Pandora in "Avatar" is making its debut in the operating room. Doctors are adapting the science of 3-D in surgery.

Surgeons in the operating room are now taking tips from movie directors. It all involves the use of 3-D technology to give doctors the edge when it comes to the operating room.

Even when they can't get to the water, David Kuncas and his son still make time to practice the fundamentals of fishing. David had to put his hobby on hiatus after being hit with constant back pain, sleep apnea and carpal tunnel syndrome. His weight fluctuated by 60 pounds.

"I was exhausted. I had no energy. Everything was just like falling apart in my life," said Kuncas.

A doctor diagnosed him with a rare disease known as acromegaly. It's the same one that caused wrestling star Andre the Giant to grow. Doctors found 16 times the normal amount of growth hormone in Kuncas's body, caused by a pea-sized tumor in his pituitary gland.

"Tiny little thing was killing me," said Kuncas.

Neurosurgeons at the University of Pennsylvania were able to help Kuncas by using a new procedure: three-dimensional, endoscopic brain surgery.

"The 3-D helps me to be safer with dissection around critical structures," said Dr. John Y.K. Lee, a neurosurgeon.

Using the same technology that helped avatars jump through the screen at the movies, surgeons inserted a 3-dimensional endoscope through a patient's nose. Then, when they put on polarized glasses, they see a 3-D view of the brain.

"We don't have monsters jumping out at us during surgery, but it is a very similar technology," said Lee.

Surgeons were able to remove the tumor without damaging the brain or the optic nerves. Now, Kuncas is getting better every day and looking forward to a little spring fishing.

"I'm going to have this boat, and I'm going to be taking this little guy out," said Kuncas.

Proving 3-D has a place outside of the movies.

Lee says he has heard reports of surgeons becoming slightly dizzy during a 3-D operation, but he and his colleagues have not had any negative effects during training or during actual operations.