Thesis dissertation in 3D: a first for Humanitas University

One of the most important and exciting moment of a student’s career, the thesis defence, has now been transformed into an unprecedented 3D experience. The 3D exoscopic technology has already been used for daily clinical practice at Humanitas Otorhinolaryngology for several months. The authors of the unusual dissertations are two Humanitas University students. “For the first time, the entire committee, the students and their relatives have worn 3D glasses and experienced first-hand what you experience in the operating room,” says Professor Armando De Virgilio, from the Humanitas Otolaryngology Unit.

“We started using the exoscope about a year ago. The device is equipped with a 3D camera that captures the surgical field with high-definition images which can be enlarged without losing resolution. This gives us the same vision of a surgical microscope”, explains De Virgilio. 3D exoscopic technology is now part of everyday clinical practice at Humanitas’ Otorhinolaryngology. It is applied in laryngeal microsurgery, reconstructive head-neck surgery, otosurgery and tear duct surgery. Moreover, thanks to the original initiatives of all members of the Otorhinolaryngology team, new possible applications are being explored.

How does this innovative technology work?

The camera films the operating field and the surgeon sees the enlarged 3D image on a monitor in front of him. In doing so, he can perform the surgery using the screen as an intermediary. The real advantage though is that the same image can also be seen through 3D glasses by other people: the anaesthetist, the instrumentalist, students. The images can also be recorded and seen again from the surgeon’s viewpoint. This makes such tool and technology very useful in the hospital but also for teaching purposes.

How did you come to discuss two theses in 3D?

The students who have discussed these two theses have already participated in several research papers, which is very rare for recent graduates. Some of these papers focused on a pre-clinical study conducted at Humanitas University’s Simulation Centre, one of the largest and most technologically advanced in Europe.

What were the two theses about?

One focused on suspended laryngeal microsurgery, within the field of vocal cord surgery. The other one was about reconstructive head-neck surgery with microvascular free flaps, a sort of tissue transplantation to compensate the substance loss following the removal of a tumor, in an aesthetically relevant area. This is a technique that allows tissue auto-transplantation, by transferring it to the area to be reconstructed.

How did the dissertations take place?

We showed the surgical procedures that were the subject of the two dissertations in the presence of a limited number of people, due to the Covid-19 regulations. The two candidates had previously analysed all the procedures performed with the exoscope, so only sample videos were shown. Both theses focused on the possibility of using the exoscope instead of the microscope. There was a lot of interest from both the committee and the relatives, as it was a new experience for everyone.

Does the exoscope represent the future of surgery?

I believe so. I’m sure the exoscope is the future of surgery and I think it will replace the microscope, which is currently at the peak of its development. The exoscope, on the other hand, was only recently introduced but is already able to compete, even though it still has great growth potential.

How does it work?

It works as a digital interface to be used within the augmented reality context. This means we are talking about the possibility of giving instructions to the surgeon during surgery, integrating information on the patient’s health and on the conditions of the operating room. The field of application is almost boundless.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.