Innovation’s Petri dish: CSTAR at London Health Sciences Centre

A world-leading centre for the research, development, testing and delivery of simulation training of minimally invasive surgical (MIS) technologies and techniques, CSTAR has long been a champion for innovation. The Centre’s facilities support all stages of medical device knowledge translation by enabling meaningful collaboration of researchers and clinicians.
Needs-based initiatives: WHaSP
Examples of innovation abound, including the WHaSP (wireless hands-free surgical pointer). Development of the WHaSP arose out of a clinical need: to address the challenge of instruction during MIS and its use of the multi-port, multi-hand, minimally invasive surgery.
“During an operation, the surgeon gives direction to and educates his or her assistant and/or resident,” explained Dr. Christopher Schlachta, CSTAR’s Medical and Research Director. “But in order to do this, the surgeon may have to take their focus or even their hands away from the operation for lack of a pointer on their operating video monitor.”
CSTAR’s engineers developed WHaSP, a pointer that is positioned on a lightweight headband, to tackle this clinical need. The product enables the surgeon to point to objects on the screen with a simple movement of their head, never removing their focus from the surgery.
Though Dr. Schlachta regularly uses the WHaSP in his OR, it is hoped the product may soon be commercially available. WHaSP was recently approved for a PSI study of effectiveness in laparoscopic gallbladder surgery.
Harnessing the spirit of collaboration: eSIM Systems
What makes CSTAR successful is the unique and close collaboration between its engineers and clinicians. Every idea that comes from CSTAR starts with a clinical need.
“If someone has an idea, we’ll arrange for a sit down between the engineers and clinicians to talk about the scope of the potential project,” said Dr. Schlachta. “Our mission at CSTAR is to advance patient safety and patient care, and to safely introduce new technologies into the clinical setting.”
This collaborative, needs-based spirit is being employed for a project to develop computer-based technologies, dubbed eSIM Systems, that simulate endoscopic- and image-guided therapeutic interventions. The project, entitled “Effective Systems for Procedure-Specific Healthcare Simulation”, is a $9.7-million project initiated by CSTAR and Dr. Schlachta, and was the recipient of an Ontario Research Fund (ORF) grant worth $3.2 million. This multi-institutional collaboration involves 19 researchers and 10 industry partners.
“The development of the ORF proposal was a meta-leadership exercise,” said Dr. Schlachta. “We did a great job of strategic planning, bringing all aspects of what CSTAR offers—researchers, engineers, educators and industry while also engaging the strengths and needs of other leading Western and provincial researchers and their institutions.”
He adds, “Medical errors are a significant problem in our healthcare system and there is a tremendous need for simulation-based education. This project is task- and process-specific.”
The optimal training experience
CSTAR’s simulation and education programming has expanded greatly, especially with the recent da Vinci Si acquisitions. In fact, CSTAR is the only Canadian training centre—and one of eight internationally—to certify surgeons in the skills and knowledge they need to perform minimally invasive surgery using the da Vinci Surgical System. Through CSTAR, LHSC doctors have produced a number of world and Canadian firsts in computer-assisted MIS, and have been national leaders in the introduction of robotic surgery in the Canadian healthcare system.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” said Dr. Lara Murphy, who was hired last February as the Centre’s first da Vinci trainer. “As the da Vinci trainer, I have had the privilege to work and collaborate with surgeons from across the country. I am now expanding to work with nurses.”
CSTAR provides a state-of-the-art training environment. The Centre encompasses much learning space, complete with high quality simulation equipment and some of the sector’s most knowledgeable experts. Located within LHSC’s Lindros Legacy Research building, the 22,500-square-foot facility is completely integrated. The Centre features a multimedia theatre with two large 3D screens, directly linked to a simulated operating room. The Centre also includes two wet labs and the 10-station dry lab in the Kellman Centre. Cameras and speakers can be found in nearly every room.
“CSTAR provides the facilities, equipment and personnel to enable education subject-matter experts to do their training,” said Mr. Phil Hunt, Director of Business Development, who was hired to bring private-sector acumen to the publicly funded CSTAR.
“CSTAR is a revenue generator. We do this through multiple client groups including internal LHSC staff & surgeons, the instruction of students at the Schulich School of Medicine located right next to us at Western University, grant support for research, da Vinci training and industry utilization of our space for product development and training. This year we hope to expand our simulation courses to incremental internal and external customers. These funds help us keep CSTAR enabled with the best technology, simulators, manikins and support personnel.”
For more information on CSTAR, please visit their” target=”_blank”>website.

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