An operation performed tomorrow (14 April) at a London hospital on a patient with colon cancer will be the first in the world to be broadcast live through virtual reality technology.

Thousands of medical students will watch the surgery, performed at Barts Health NHS Trust by leading cancer surgeon Dr Shafi Ahmed, remotely though VR headsets and using their smartphones.

Barts Health is working with Medical Realities, a healthcare company set up by Ahmed to transform medical training through VR and augmented reality, as well as live streaming and VR specialists Mativision.

The operation will be filmed on two 360° cameras with multiple lenses and live streamed to enable viewers to move around the theatre and zoom in and out of any aspect of the operation.

A number of medical students from Barts Health have been provided with VR headsets and will be participating in the operation from nearby seminar rooms in the hospital and at Queen Mary University of London.

Others are expected to log in from medical schools around the world. Viewers without a VR headset can still watch the operation on a smartphone or computer screen.

The aim is to host many more VR surgeries on the Mativision app, ‘VR in OR’ and Medical Realities website. Mativision and Medical Realities want to overlay the video on demand content with CGI graphics and labels creating an interactive educational experience.

Ahmed described the surgery as an, “unparalleled learning opportunity.

“As a champion of new technology in medicine, I believe that virtual and augmented reality can revolutionise surgical education and training, particularly for developing countries that don’t have the resources and facilities of NHS hospitals.”