It has emerged that many brain surgeons in developing countries look to their smartphones for guidance.
In a sign of the times, phones have started fulfilling this role in part, thanks to the thousands of 3D brain images, produced by Dr. Albert Rhoton at the University of Florida, that are freely available online.
"I've had young surgeons from Africa, Brazil and other countries tell me they're pulling the images into the operating room, Live Science quoted Rhoton, head of the Neuro-Microanatomy Lab at the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute," as saying.
As a training tool for surgical residents, Dr. Rhoton's image library has grown into the world's largest collection of 3D brain images. Physicians from across the globe now use the detailed anatomical images to train residents, prepare for surgeries and even guide them while performing surgeries.
Dr Rhoton said the images are their small contribution to making what is a delicate, awesome experience for neurosurgery patients more accurate, gentler and safer.
Rhoton has collected images of brain anatomy for as long as he's been teaching surgery 50 years ago and began moving to 3D technology 25 years ago.
However, only recently did he realize how smartphones and online downloads could expand the reach of his educational tools. Two and a half years ago, Rhoton and his colleagues began working with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) to make the brain images and videos available on iTunes University free of cost.
Even before the iTunes U venture, Rhoton had shared his brain images with hospitals and universities as a visiting instructor.
The 3D images show the detailed structure of various sections of the brain, with blood vessels and nerves color-coded in bright red and blue. The colors make the details of neural anatomy clearer than in the normal, grayish brain matter.
Rhoton and the residents he instructs have built up the library over decades, performing careful dissections and transferring the images they obtain to 3D photography and video.
The iTunes U content is engineered to be usable across device platforms, from iPhones to laptops to 3D television.
Rhoton's work earned him the 2011 Surgeon of the Year award from the journal World Neurosurgery.
Seeing how surgeons have used the images during actual surgeries, Rhoton and AANS next hope to feed the brain maps directly into endoscope screens used in surgery.