College of Medicine opens $8.8 million Surgical Innovation & Training Laboratory

Attendees at the Surgical Innovation & Training Laboratory applaud the ribbon cutting. Chancellor Michael Amiridis, seated, cut the ribbon with robotic scissors. (Photo: Diane M. Smutny, DMS Photography)

Operating robotic scissors, University of Illinois Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis snipped a ribbon to officially open the University of Illinois College of Medicine Surgical Innovation & Training Laboratory, or SITL, on Sept. 15. 

“This is a very important occasion as it not only establishes new and advanced ways we can provide state-of-the-art health care to our patients throughout Chicago and Illinois, it will also allow us to train thousands of surgeons across the country and the world,” Amiridis said. 

Over 300 people from all over the world attended the virtual grand opening of the 17,000 square-foot facility which provides “hands-on” training for all surgical disciplines. Unused storage and lab space in the basement of the Neuropsychiatric Institute was transformed into the $8.8 million center.  

In his opening remarks, Dr. Enrico Benedetti, head of the department of surgery, explained the lab’s humble beginning after colleague Dr. Pier Giulianotti, chief of general, minimally invasive, and robotic surgery, showed him the basement space. Benedetti immediately brought the idea to Dr. Fady Charbel, head of the department of neurosurgery. 

“In 10 minutes, we decided to do it, but then we took five years to finalize it,” Benedetti said. 

Benedetti thanked principal architect, Carlos Amato of Cannon Design, for transforming the space into a world-class lab. 

“It’s the most beautiful lab I’ve ever seen for surgical training and simulation. We’ll train people in a nice environment that’s futuristic and pleasant to be in,” Benedetti said. 

SITL features advanced simulation in neurosurgery, robotic and craniofacial surgery, with particular emphasis on microsurgery and robotic surgery. Modern surgical training tools, including several robotic units, are available for surgeons of all expertise levels to use. Direct feeds from the lab’s operating rooms can be transmitted to a large classroom with three modular units, which when combined can accommodate 200 learners.  SITL also features a Surgical Innovation Garage to facilitate collaboration between physicians and engineers.  

“This space has been designed with the flexibility to adopt rapid innovation that continues to occur in surgery, but also to share knowledge through direct instruction in demonstrating advanced surgical practices,” said Dr. Robert Barish, vice chancellor for health affairs at UIC. 

Fundraising for the center was led jointly by the departments of neurosurgery, surgery, the Robotic Surgery Center, and UIC. It included contributions from the Pasquinelli family; the Cutting Edge Foundation, led by Dr. Iliana Sweis; Wally Legat; and the Kallis family.

College of Medicine Executive Dean Dr. Mark Rosenblatt thanked donors and industry partners Medtronic and Intuitive for making innovation possible. 

“Innovation is an integral piece of what we do at the college of medicine and at UI Health. It’s woven into our DNA. We don’t want to wait for things to happen. We want to make them happen,” Rosenblatt said. “We want to develop ideas that are novel, to seek change, create something new and extraordinary. We want important things in medicine and education to happen in our college and at UIC and to make them happen here first.’’ 

Watch the ribbon-cutting video for a complete look at the SITL.

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