Researchers at McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute are working to study the effectiveness of training budding brain surgeons with virtual reality simulators.

The study, which was published in the Journal of The American Medical Association, details the simulator, which uses artificial intelligence to build scenarios which closely mirror real-life surgical situations. The simulators allows student surgeons to practice delicate procedures in a lower pressure environment.

“We actually took tumours out and measured their density and then put all that information into the simulator and then we took colour and put that into the simulator,” study co-lead author Rolando Del Maestro told CTV Montreal. “Then we took colour and put that into the simulator, the way the blood vessels bleed.”

The virtually constructed brain looks and moves like a real brain. Through the simulation, students have to surgically remove realistic tumours.

The training for neurosurgeons generally takes six years. Though students have physicians by their sides to teach them the entire way, it’s still very high-stakes when on the job.

“An individual who has never been involved in doing an operation on the brain before, suddenly is faced with doing an operation on the brain,” Del Mastro said.

The technology looks to help limit errors, by exposing student surgeons to an environment where they’re close to the critical structures of the brain, and can experience the pressure of a situation where consequences to the patient would be severe, but without actual risk.

During the study, researchers examined 50 participants with differing levels of medical training.

Each performed complex surgeries like tumour resections in the simulator. Researchers tracked their movements, the forces of each instrument used, and rated their level of expertise.

The team hopes that with further development the virtual reality trainer will allow neurological students across the world to cement their skills before their first real operations.