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Improving Doctor Training

By Laura McGowan

$850,000 grant will fund research on improving medical simulators

How do you teach a doctor to detect a possible internal hematoma or a cancerous lump underneath the skin—or to palpate organs to screen for abnormalities?

Students can examine human patients, but this limits the number of actual conditions they might be exposed to during their training. Medical simulators can be used, but may be limited in the realistic experience they provide. After hundreds of students have examined a breast cancer simulator, for example, wear marks on the surface provide unrealistic clues about the location of the lump.

Dr. Andy Chiou explains the need for improved medical simulators.

Peoria Robotics, a group of computer scientists and engineers from Bradley University as well as local medical professionals, hopes that their research will provide more extensive, more realistic resources to train medical professionals. With the help of an $850,000 grant from the United States Army Medical Research and Material Command, Peoria Robotics hopes to create a new generation of cost-effective medical simulators. The grant was announced on February 18, 2009, at the Peoria Next Innovation Center, where Peoria Robotics has set up its laboratory.

Dr. John Engdahl, the Donald V. Fites Chair of Engineering and Technology at Bradley, is the principal investigator in the project. Working with him are Dr. Andy Chiou of the University of Illinois College of Medicine and an adjunct faculty member at Bradley, and Bradley faculty members Drs. Julie Reyer, Arnold Patton, Robert Podlasek, and Dean Kim.

“Our goal is to create cost-effective simulators that will be used to teach medical professionals and other emergency responders to diagnose conditions,” Engdahl said. “By simulating tests requiring diagnostic perceptions using the sense of touch we will help the medical community develop a means to teach and duplicate a wide-range of exam experiences and pathological conditions.”

Announcing the grant, Bradley President Joanne Glasser said, “this research could not only aid emergency medical personnel on the streets of our communities, but also on the battlefields where American soldiers are risking their lives.” She also stressed that the end result will hopefully be a start-up company, based in central Illinois, producing medical simulators and creating new jobs.

Congressman Aaron Schock said, “this grant couldn’t have come at a better time for this community.” He believes that in the short term it will not only allow for important research to be done, but also create jobs for central Illinois. In the long term, he said, it could help improve health care and reduce medical costs.

At the announcement of the grant are (from left) Dr. Andy Chiou, Dr. Julie Reyer, Congressman Aaron Schock, President Joanne Glasser, Esq., Dr. Robert Podlasek, Dr. Dean Kim, and Dr. John Engdahl.

About four years ago, Peoria NEXT, a collaborative organization that hopes to spark technological innovation and economic development in central Illinois, asked for proposals for technological and scientific research involving partnerships between two or more member organizations, which include Bradley University, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, and Caterpillar Inc. “A group of us started meeting every few weeks,” Engdahl said, “just to kick around some ideas. In talking with the group, it became clear that the medical school had a need for more realistic medical simulators.”

At that time, they didn’t have money to fund their research, but they kept exploring ideas. With the help of Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who recently retired as 18th District Congressman, and Senator Dick Durbin, they were able to secure the grant from the United States Army.

Dr. Andy Chiou says that for training medical students, nothing can compare with the excitement and variables of examining an actual person. But Peoria Robotics dreams of developing technology that can provide a very realistic experience. “We want to create that adrenaline rush for students.”

Peoria Robotics has already hired two engineers, Justin Saboury and Deepak Gaddipati, to begin the laboratory research. Both Saboury and Gaddipati graduated from Bradley. A third engineer will be hired soon.

“We hope to develop intellectual property that will have sustainable value,” Engdahl said, “and then we hope to develop a small company to produce the simulators. Bringing new technology and economic development into the community is a goal of Peoria NEXT. And Peoria Robotics was started from scratch under that vision.”

Engineering Better Business PracticesProject Asia UpdateImproving Doctor Training
Tetrahymena Gets its Own “Wiki”STEM ScholarsBU AwardsGrant Activity