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Utilizing transcranial direct current stimulation to enhance laparoscopic technical skills training: A randomized controlled trial



Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique that delivers constant, low electrical current resulting in changes to cortical excitability. Prior work suggests it may enhance motor learning giving it the potential to augment surgical technical skill acquisition.


The aim of this study was to test the efficacy of tDCS, coupled with motor skill training, to accelerate laparoscopic skill acquisition in a pre-registered (NCT03083483), double-blind and placebo-controlled study. We hypothesized that relative to sham tDCS, active tDCS would accelerate the development of laparoscopic technical skills, as measured by the Fundamentals of Laparoscopic Surgery (FLS) Peg Transfer task quantitative metrics.


In this study, sixty subjects (mean age 22.7 years with 42 females) were randomized into sham or active tDCS in either bilateral primary motor cortex (bM1) or supplementary motor area (SMA) electrode configurations. All subjects practiced the FLS Peg Transfer Task during six 20-min training blocks, which were preceded and followed by a single trial pre-test and post-test. The primary outcome was changes in laparoscopic skill performance over time, quantified by group differences in completion time from pre-test to post-test and learning curves developed from a calculated score accounting for errors.


Learning curves calculated over the six 20-min training blocks showed significantly greater improvement in performance for the bM1 group than the sham group (t = 2.07, p = 0.039), with the bM1 group achieving approximately the same amount of improvement in 4 blocks compared to the 6 blocks required of the sham group. The SMA group also showed greater mean improvement than sham, but exhibited more variable learning performance and differences relative to sham were not significant (t = 0.85, p = 0.400). A significant main effect was present for pre-test versus post-test times (F = 133.2, p < 0.001), with lower completion times at post-test, however these did not significantly differ for the training groups.


Laparoscopic skill training with active bilateral tDCS exhibited significantly greater learning relative to sham. The potential for tDCS to enhance the training of surgical skills, therefore, merits further investigation to determine if these preliminary results may be replicated and extended.

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