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Surgical technologies

UWO researchers to develop surgical simulators

Dr. Christopher Schlachta (pictured), a surgery and oncology professor at the University of Western Ontario, has been awarded a $3.2 million operating grant by the Ontario Research Fund. The funding will support Schlachta’s research in developing simulation-based training for laparoscopic and robotic surgery.

Dr. Schlachta is using gaming technology, such as virtual reality, to teach future surgeons how to refine their skills and reduce medical error in the operating room.

Schlachta, departments of surgery and oncology professor at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is one of 320 University of Western Ontario researchers receiving approximately $8.8 million in support from the Ontario Research Fund (ORF).

Schlachta plans to use the funds to support the operating costs of his research.

“We are very grateful for the Ontario government to recognize the value of the research we do here and the benefit it is going to have both in terms of its impact on creating new jobs, supporting private industry and improving quality of healthcare,” he says.

Introducing virtual reality simulators into the training process will allow doctors-in-training to refine their skills without risking a patient’s life.

“The way we train researchers and doctors now is a 150-year-old model, and it’s basically an apprenticeship model,” he says. “That’s a very effective model and we have very good healthcare in Canada. However, one of the downsides of that approach is they are learning on you.

“We are very concerned about things like safety, and medical error and the cost of training. What we are planning to achieve through this research is to develop new technologies that are going to allow us to train students, residents, surgeons on computer-based virtual reality simulators so they will already be at a fixed level of competence before they touch their first patient.”

The goal is to improve dramatically safety of care and provide more efficient training and better quality of training and care, he explains.

In addition, Schlachta and his team will be working with industry partners to develop the technology for the virtual reality simulators, define a curriculum for training surgeons and validate the technology to make sure that it is not only “cool” but also effective.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation, medical simulation training is an emerging field – with an estimated global market of $1.5 billion by 2012 – and Dr. Schlachta’s work will help establish Ontario as a leader, while ensuring that surgeons receive the best possible training.

Posted August 11, 2011