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A surgeon at the Royal London Hospital has become the first in the UK to use Google Glass spectacles to broadcast an operation live to medical students – and answer their emailed questions at the same time.

Colorectal cancer expert Shafi Ahmed, above, used the device to stream about 90 minutes of the removal of cancerous tissue from the liver and bowel of 78-year-old patient Roy Pulfer.

Operations have previously been filmed in a conventional manner for teaching purposes but this is the first time that it has been possible to stream the procedure live online. Yesterday’s operation was watched by 13,000 surgical students in 115 countries.

Mr Ahmed said:

I am delighted that by using Google Glass technology we are transporting our future surgeons directly into the operating theatre.

Mr Pulfer, 78, from Chadwell St Mary near Tilbury, said:

I’m happy that it will help educate young people. They like using technology so it’s great for them. The staff have been great to me all the way and explained every step of the operation so clearly.

Questions from the students were submitted online and filtered by two assistants – medical students at Queen Mary University – before appearing in the corner of the Google Glasses worn by Mr Ahmed.

His verbal answers were then transmitted via the online feed to all viewers. The hospital said there was no risk to patient safety as the questions didn’t interfere with his view.

The spectacles, which cost about £900, contain a camera in one of their “arms” and can project information into the sight-line of the wearer.

“Using this technology will support us to deliver high-quality and safe care now and in to the future,” said Mr Ahmed, the colorectal cancer lead at Barts Health NHS Trust and associate dean at Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The session was publicised through Queen Mary University, which used Facebook to alert other medical students across the world.

Professor Richard Trembath, vice-principal for Health, Queen Mary University of London, said:

We are thrilled to be involved in the first live-streamed surgical procedure taking place in the UK.
This is a pioneering piece of work, enabling us to expand our reach around the world. We believe harnessing technology in this way will eventually become a core component to the cutting-edge undergraduate and postgraduate teaching we provide our students and trainees.

It was the first time an operation had been broadcast to students in other countries. Footage was streamed across Europe and to Australiasia and South America.

Previously, countries have only shared operations to students within their country.

Hemant Kocher, consultant liver surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust, removed the cancerous tissue in Mr Pulfer’s liver, which had spread from the bowel. Mr Kocher said:

I am very excited about this new way of teaching. We are now able to show this specialist combined operation of liver and bowel which is only possible in a specialist hospital such as the Royal London due to our expert team working together.

Professor Norman Williams, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

We got a glimpse of what technology can do for the future of surgical training. The unique and unparalleled view of an operation means trainee surgeons know better what to expect when they go in to the operating theatre.