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Engineering-Based Medicine

Making Virtual Surgery Simulation a Reality

In the same way that pilots train for actual flights through simulation the next generation of doctors will train for surgery. Kesh Kesavadas is at the forefront of a technology that will make that training virtual.

In July, Kesavadas and the Health Care Engineering Systems Center, welcomed Raven, the Robot-Assisted Tele-Surgery for Tele-Health, to its lab. Raven will allow future doctors hands-on training in robotic surgery without the use of a patient. The research that Kesavadas group is working on takes that a step further and wouldn’t even require a robot for the training. Instead, through virtual reality and computer simulation, surgeons will be able to replicate the surgery.

Raven Surgical Robotic Simulation

Prof. Kesh Kesavadas (ISE) demonstrates the Raven and explains
how it will be used to train the next generation of surgeons.

“What we’re trying to do here is to use simulation as a way of making robotic surgery safer,” Kesavadas said. “We will use a mock interface to control a robot, except the robot is virtual. The goal is so make a surgeon highly-skilled before they are allowed to touch a patient.”

There are two technologies that have made this type of simulation possible, according to Kesavadas. The first is virtual reality, which can simulate touching a tissue, tying a knot and advanced engineering principles that are graphically stimulating. The second is haptics, which gives users the sensation of touching something. For instance, a surgeon could feel tissue even though there is none.

Urologists and gynecologists in residence are already using this robotic simulation for simple procedures like prostatectomies and hysterectomies. Kesavadas is one of a half dozen Illinois faculty that is in the process of taking it to the next stage to introduce unexpected events.

Illinois Researchers Making Virtual Surgery Simulation a Reality

The FDA requires robotic surgeons to report events that have caused surgeries to be halted or where the patient has died. That database has about 100,000 events catalogued in the last eight years, and Kesavadas’ group is using those events to build the simulator.

“We are looking at the database to find the most common events and what caused them,” Kesavadas said. “For example, if one of the surgical tools breaks down, what do you do? Do you stop the surgery? How do you do that? Prior to now, surgeons were only exposed to these events inside the operating room.”

Kesavadas’ vision is that research at Illinois will be the genesis of much of the development in this space, and the newly acquired Raven is only a piece of that vision. In addition to engineers, the new College of Medicine will bring actual practitioners or doctors-in-residence to the center, which Kesavadas adds will be extremely beneficial to the development.

“We don’t want to be just an engineering research center, but also want to take it down the stream,” he said. “Even though others are training in robotic surgery itself, the simulation to train robotic surgery is something that we have a unique strength here. There really is no other center like this in the country.”

Simulation Center defines engineering-medicine collaboration

As development of the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine moves forward, another tremendous opportunity emerged with a $10 million gift provided to launch the Jump Simulation Center. The College of Engineering has partnered with the OSF Hospital and the Jump Trading Center in Peoria, Illinois on the initiative to train a new type of doctor uniquely equipped to transform healthcare. This is the first major gift to the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the first medical school in the nation focused from the beginning at the intersection of engineering and medicine.


Prof. Rashid Bashir talks about the College's partnership with
the OSF Hospital and Jump Trading Center in Peoria.

“Too often on university campuses, we talk about different disciplines working in silos, barriers separating us from valuable collaborations,” said Rashid Bashir, the head of the bioengineering department and a key member of the team that developed the plans for the new engineering-based medical school. “In the Jump Simulation Center, engineers and medical students will be literally side-by-side, learning about and solving medical problems every day.” Designing and learning how to use new medical devices, new mobile, low-cost technologies for rural and developing areas, new medical simulation tools, and new bio-printing and bio-fabrication techniques will be the focus of the center’s technology-driven clinical environment.

The gift is the result of a growing partnership with Chicago-based Jump Trading, a financial technology firm. The Jump Simulation Center will be located in Everitt Laboratory, which will soon be renovated and become home to the Department of Bioengineering at Illinois.


Contributors: Mike Koon ( | Josh Nielsen (