Q&A with Del Mar-based neurosurgeon Mario Ammirati

Mario Ammirati
Mario Ammirati

Since relocating to Del Mar, neurosurgeon Mario Ammirati has continued to advance the use of augmented reality in surgeries for glioblastomas, vestibular schwannomas and related conditions. Ammirati spent about 25 years performing more than 4,000 neurosurgical and spine surgeries before opening his private practice. He described in a Q&A how augmented reality has a lot of potential in his field.

This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

Q: What is your background and how did you get started in neurosurgery?

Ammirati: I am a neurosurgeon. I trained at Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago, and then I did a fellowship in surgery of the skull base in Germany. And then I came back to the United States in the beginning of the ‘90s and was on the faculty at UCLA Medical Center, and then I was a tenured associate professor of neurosurgery at UC Irvine Medical Center. After that I moved east to Ohio and I took a position as a tenured professor of neurosurgery at The Ohio State University medical center, where I worked for about 10, 11 years. I had a very active neurosurgical practice focused on skull-based tumors, brain tumors and spine. I also had a laboratory where we did research on surgical approaches to the base of the skull, and we hosted a number of fellows both from the United States as well as from overseas.

Q: What brought you to Del Mar?

Ammirati: A couple years ago I decided to move back to Southern California because a son of mine is an interventional neuroradiologist, and I have a younger child who is about 11 years old, and my wife and I wanted to be closer to family. And then I decided to go into private practice, that’s a challenge I never took on before.

Q: How do you use augmented reality in neurosurgery?

Ammirati: Augmented reality as it’s used in neurosurgery has to do with display images. It’s just like when you are driving a car, in front of you you have the freeway that winds down and then you have on the monitor in the car the GPS that shows you the position of your car that shows you where you want to go. So you have two displays. You have one real display that is reality, and then you have the virtual reality that is the computer screen in your car. So essentially, that’s the same thing that happens in the augmented reality neurosurgery way that we use it. We have an operating microscope through which we look at the real reality, and then we are able to see part of the operating microscope that is the computer representation of the patient’s brain that shows where we are.

Q: Is there anything else prospective patients should know?

Ammirati: It’s not a magic bullet. Very few things in medicine or surgery are magic bullets. But certainly it’s something that is helpful when you are operating on someone’s brain. There are other ways in which you can implement augmented reality, but those modalities are not fully developed. We are certainly interested in exploring these other modalities and bringing them to the clinical space.