October 23, 2020

Pioneering Surgeries of the Future: UIC College of Medicine Surgery & Innovation Training Lab Celebrates Grand Opening

A dark and unused space in the basement of the University of Illinois Chicago’s Neuropsychiatric Institute has been transformed into a state-of-the-art simulation laboratory meant to springboard the surgical innovations of the future.

The 17,000-sf College of Medicine’s Surgical and Innovation Training Lab (SITL) opened in September with a symbolic ribbon cutting ceremony that included the snip of a surgical robotic scissors. Simulation is increasingly being used as a tool to better understand the tasks, environments and processes that support the training and delivery of healthcare services. The SITL takes simulation and surgical education one step further by creating a space that will imagine, experiment and help create the surgical rooms of the future and allow surgeons to train with the latest in robotic and minimally invasive surgical tools.

Credit: DMS Photography

Dr. Pier Giulianotti, professor of surgery and chief of the division of general, minimally invasive, and robotic surgery, challenged our design team to create a space that allowed for education using todays latest technologies but that also included a space for “out of the box” thinking,  experimentation, research, collaboration with industry partners.

“Students and residents can sit down and counsel, and they can try operations without having a patient underneath and are able to repeat the steps of a perfect procedure without damaging or hurting anybody,” Giulianotti said.

The ability to test out surgical procedures in untested environments– outer space, (a space shuttle, the International Space Station, Mars) the desert, a life raft– is a core piece of the SITL and how Dr. Guilianotti hopes to push the future of surgery and its practitioners forward. The resulting space used the flexibility of theater design (and theater stages) as inspiration. Theater stages are designed with behind-the-scenes storage spaces for quick set and costume changes. The centerpieces of the SITL are the Innovation Lab, which connects a traditional surgical space and an experimentation research garage known as the Surgical Innovation Garage (or you could say it enable the “collision of tradition and future”). Storage spaces allow for adaptability and flexibility – equipment can move in and out to create different modes of use. It is also meant to pioneer the future “surgineer” and “surgineering,” the future surgeon being in addition to a clinician, a computer scientist and a medical technology engineer and inventor.

“In a theater stage we can in a few hours or minutes completely change the environment, without having to call a general contractor” said lead designer Carlos Amato. “So we needed to create a space where you simulate complex surgeries in intense environments, such as a battlefield in a desert. We needed a space that could deconstruct itself and serve as background to experiments taking place inside.”

The combination of warm wood and metallics in the interiors give the lab an inviting and modern feel with a futuristic look. A green wall in a conference room brings nature into the underground space, and triangular skylights, inspired by the Louvre museum glass pyramid, allow light into the basement from the plaza above.

Seminar spaces surround the main lab, and are connected through interactive audio video systems to the traditional surgery simulation lab, the innovation lab, and the experimental garage. These spaces take the place of the observation rooms of the past and are connected virtually to the lab and the medical center. The SITL can accommodate 200 students, once COVID restrictions are lifted.

“I remember when I first met with Dr. Guilianotti and he said, ‘We’re not designing a space here, we’re designing the surgeon of the future,’” said Amato. “We were charged with designing the most advanced, future-focused, robotic simulation center anywhere in the world.”

Shortly after the lab’s grand opening, medical students noted how helpful it is to be able to simulate surgical procedures of all levels.

“You first sit down and learn the basics, the rules of the road, how to respect the instruments, how to respect the patients when you’re utilizing the instruments, how to position yourself in relation to the patient when starting the operation,” said Dr. Christina Warner, a general surgery resident. “In the laboratory setting, the resident learns how to translate what they’re seeing on the screen to what they’re actually doing within the patient’s body. For obvious reasons, it’s best not to do that while you’re actually operating on a patient.”