Using deep learning to identify the recurrent laryngeal nerve during thyroidectomy

Julia Gong, F. Christopher Holsinger, Julia E. Noel, Sohei Mitani, Jeff Jopling, Nikita Bedi, Yoon Woo Koh, Lisa A. Orloff, Claudio R. Cernea, Serena Yeung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Surgeons must visually distinguish soft-tissues, such as nerves, from surrounding anatomy to prevent complications and optimize patient outcomes. An accurate nerve segmentation and analysis tool could provide useful insight for surgical decision-making. Here, we present an end-to-end, automatic deep learning computer vision algorithm to segment and measure nerves. Unlike traditional medical imaging, our unconstrained setup with accessible handheld digital cameras, along with the unstructured open surgery scene, makes this task uniquely challenging. We investigate one common procedure, thyroidectomy, during which surgeons must avoid damaging the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN), which is responsible for human speech. We evaluate our segmentation algorithm on a diverse dataset across varied and challenging settings of operating room image capture, and show strong segmentation performance in the optimal image capture condition. This work lays the foundation for future research in real-time tissue discrimination and integration of accessible, intelligent tools into open surgery to provide actionable insights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14306
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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