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How Hollywood Special Effects Are Helping Surgeons Practice Brain Surgery

Critical care doctor Peter Weinstock explains how movie magic—in the right hands—can actually save lives.

Hollywood special effects artists are doing for life-threatening situations what they do for supernatural danger: giving us a dry run. Doctors at Boston Children's Hospital are working with Emmy-winning special effects firm Fractured FX to make realistic brains for surgeons to practice rare procedures without the risk of using an actual human being.

Just like a practicing a sport or conducting a fire drill, these practice runs are guaranteed to improve performance, accordning to Peter Weinstock, who leads the Boston Children's Hospital Simulator program. His team of engineers and illustrators scans patients' brains and bodies and 3D print the results. Then they work with Fractured CEO Justin Raleigh, whose work appears in The Conjuring, and The Knick, and who won the Creative Arts Emmy in 2015 for American Horror Story: Freakshow, to bring fleshy equivalents into the real world.


"We could not do this work without our dear friends on the West Coast out in California," Weinstock says in a TED Talk released on YouTube yesterday. "These are individuals that are incredibly talented at being able to recreate reality… The more we got into this field, the more it became clear that we are doing cinematography. We are doing filmmaking, except the actors are not actors, they are doctors and nurses."

For context, the process surgeons were using to develop these skills involved removing seeds from a red bell pepper with tweezers. With their experience on The Knick, it's no wonder Fractured is able to produce more lifelike products to practice on

The results of more realistic simulation have been substantial, according to Weinstock. He says the process has "improved outcomes for children and adults… reduced pain and suffering, reduced time in operating rooms, reduced anesthetic times, had the ultimate dose response curve: that the more you did it, the more it benefitted patients, it had no side effects, and it's available wherever care is delivered."

Scientists are also researching how to 3D print whole organs that could be used for transplants, but safe test cases are still a ways away. The ability to practice is an immediate benefit of 3D printing on the medical profession. It's incredible to think that lives are being saved thanks to the same artists who made this freaky villain mask in Supergirl. Learn more about the process in the video below.


Follow Fractured FX on Instagram and their website, and learn more about Peter Weinstock here.


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