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Neurosurgeon leads groundbreaking AI-assisted surgery on an awake patient, mapping brain activity to preserve functionality

During surgery, the game-changer came by keeping the patient awake and engaged with an AI tool called Metahumans. It felt like stepping into the future. The sterile operating room buzzed with palpable anticipation.

  • 4 months ago
  • December 24, 2023
4 min read
Neurosurgeon Jesús Martín-Fernandez conducting a pioneering Neurosurgeon Jesús Martín-Fernandez conducting a pioneering "awake" surgery with the assistance of artificial intelligence. | Photo courtesy of Jesús Martín-Fernandez
journalist’s notes
interview subject
Jesús Martín-Fernandez, 30, is a neurosurgeon, scientist, musical composer, and orchestra conductor from Santa Cruz de La Palma, Spain. His work, revealing how different languages are processed in the brain of a polyglot, led him to global recognition, including starring in a documentary, delivering international TED talks, and authoring a forthcoming book. He led a groundbreaking brain surgery on a patient who remained awake, using artificial intelligence (AI) to map and preserve brain activity. The results will be published by Planeta in April 2024.
background information
The groundbreaking brain surgery performed on an awake patient using AI is a pioneering technique developed by Spanish neurosurgeon Jesús Martín-Fernandez. This method, known as “cirugía a la carta” involves keeping patients awake during operations to preserve crucial functions like emotions, language, behavior, memory, and other mental faculties. A key feature of this procedure is the use of avatars with faces, projected onto a screen for the patient to interact with. These avatars, powered by artificial intelligence, display a range of expressions that the patient must recognize. This test evaluates emotions in real-time, contributing to a shorter, more manageable postoperative recovery. At Hospital del Mar in Barcelona in February 2023, Martín-Fernandez successfully removed a low-grade brain tumor from a 17-year-old boy using the technique. The tumor was located in areas previously deemed ‘inoperable.’

BARCELONA, Spain — A decade ago, as a medical student, a significant challenge altered the course of my life. My beloved uncle was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This personal ordeal led me to a profound realization about the importance of emotional well-being in medicine. Advocating for holistic healing became my mission, reshaping my approach to neurosurgery and driving me to seek innovative solutions in brain science.

In February 2023, my efforts culminated in a groundbreaking surgery in Barcelona, integrating artificial intelligence (AI) to interact with a patient, conscious during surgery. The experience marked a historic moment in neurosurgery, reinforcing my commitment to advancing the field. Reflecting on this journey, I often ponder how such technology might have changed my uncle’s fate.

Read more health stories at Orato World Media.

A journey to neurosurgical innovation: “My pursuit led me to a milestone surgery in Barcelona

While a medical student at university, my uncle’s diagnosis of a brain tumor shook me to my core. Flooded with memories of his influence on my musical journey, I hoped for a successful surgery. Sadly, while the operation extended his life, it drastically altered him as a person.

My uncle lost the ability to emotionally connect with others, thus weakening our bond. This disconcerting change transformed my perspective on neurosurgery, leading me to champion holistic and emotionally centered healing.

Now, I advocate for and emphasize the importance of emotional well-being during and as an outcome of surgery. It became my goal to revolutionize medical practices, and my dedication shifted toward advancing brain science. This year, my pursuit led me to a milestone surgery in Barcelona with fellow neurosurgeon Dr. Gloria Villalba and other experts.

The significant procedure attracted a diverse audience including experts in all fields, medical students, and a film crew. The surgery marked a historic moment in medicine, reinforcing my commitment to advancing neurosurgical methods. 

Revolutionizing neurosurgery with artificial intelligence or AI

During surgery, the game-changer came by keeping the patient awake and engaged with an AI tool called Metahumans. It felt like stepping into the future. The sterile operating room buzzed with palpable anticipation.

As I readied for the surgery, I felt a surge of adrenaline, not just from the new tool’s novelty but from its potential to revolutionize patient care. As we prepared the patient, a sense of unity and purpose connected the team. The patient remained alert yet pain-free, and interacted with digital avatars. This became a groundbreaking step.

During the procedure, the artificial intelligence (AI) displayed emotional avatars, testing the patient’s responses while we removed the tumor. It felt surreal, to perform such intricate surgery on an awake patient, watching them interact with our AI innovation.

Neurosurgeon Jesús Martín-Fernandez skillfully removes a tumor from an awake patient, aided by artificial intelligence or AI. | Photo courtesy of Jesús Martín-Fernandez

After we completed the surgery, a wave of hope and satisfaction washed over everyone. The room, which was filled with eager students and a film crew, mirrored my own elation. Arriving home that night, I crashed in bed and allowed the intense emotions of the day take over. In these quiet moments, thoughts of my uncle emerged. I wondered, “What if he had this technology a decade ago? Things might have been different for him.” These reflections felt both haunting and inspiring.

[The inaugural surgery using this revolutionary technique, known as “on-demand surgery,” keeps patients awake in order to preserve emotions, language, behavior, memory, and other mental functions. The AI allows the team to map the motor and sensory areas of the brain having to do with movement, language, and emotional reactions.]

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