16 Ottobre 2023

Technology in support of healthcare

The Laboratory for Augmented Health Environments will develop data, AI and robotics-driven prototypes and train future surgeons and healthcare professionals. A collaboration of the University of Trento with the School of Medicine and the Regional Healthcare Services

As you step into the two new rooms at the Ferrari 1 Building in Povo you find yourself surrounded by state of the art technology. Big screens, sensors, simulators, cameras and many other devices of various sizes. And yet the Laboratory for Augmented Health Environments is as real as you can imagine. A mixed virtual and physical space for learning and experimentation that will remove the barrier between the world of research and healthcare facilities, and ensure that modern technological solutions – such as robotic ultrasound systems or the simulation of endovascular aortic surgery – are put to use for better diagnosis and treatment.
Paolo Giorgini, director of the Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science and, with Giuseppe Riccardi, coordinator of the Laboratory for Augmented Health Environments, explains: “Technology has reached an advanced stage of development and people expect it to be used in healthcare too. Think, for example, of the long-standing problem of waiting lists. We already have software to process CT scan data that could greatly reduce the waiting time for medical visits and examinations. And augmented reality in the operating room can improve the surgical procedure, which benefits the surgical team and the patient”.
"Our environment offers a hybrid type of human/machine interaction that we will often see in the near future. Some technologies are already portable and can be used in hospitals and clinics, others are at the project and prototype level but we are at work to further develop them," notes co‑coordinator Giuseppe Riccardi. "Our learning environment is one of the first of this type in the world because it does not focus on a single technology, we work at the interface between physical and virtual spaces and interactions and our goal is to create a continuum between research and clinical practice to innovate medicine."
There are however various obstacles on the way to technology transfer. First of all, the gap between medical training and scientific development. Giorgini and Riccardi reflect on the limits of offering conventional university education to the digital natives who are studying to become doctors. The new learning, research and mentoring space set up by UniTrento and the Regional Healthcare Services (Apss) seeks to find solutions to this issue too. It will be a place where health and medical professions students can work together with engineering students, where medicine students and professionals can practice surgery on a mannequin in the augmented operating room, where engineering and IT researchers can collaborate with health professionals to identify solutions to current problems.
Meanwhile, from the next semester, students in the fourth year of Medicine and Surgery at UniTrento will attend a five-credit course on artificial intelligence for medicine in this laboratory.
Then its doors will open to interns, who will learn with and from medical professionals.
In the environment that simulates an operating room for cardiovascular surgery, advanced camera and sensor systems make it possible to conduct behavioural analysis and to examine group dynamics, human/machine interaction, decision-making processes, stress and burnout levels of the surgical staff team to create a better climate, reduce errors and optimise processes.
People at the Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science are aware of the profound social and ethical implications of this technologically advanced laboratory. For this reason – Giorgini underlines – we will work together with the University's Research Ethics Committee and the Faculty of Law, and particularly with the BioLaw project, through various training and collaboration initiatives for students and professionals. We are also planning to collaborate with the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science to explore the impact of the combination of technology and life sciences in healthcare and professional ethics.
The Laboratory for Augmented Health Environments
The Laboratory for Augmented Health Environments combines advanced technology and a multidisciplinary approach and aims to provide a space for research, education and training for prospective doctors and engineers, while collaborating with local stakeholders and the healthcare sector. It was designed by the Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science in collaboration with the Centre for Medical Sciences and the Regional Healthcare Services of the Province of Trento, with the support of Fondazione Caritro.
Project coordinators Paolo Giorgini and Giuseppe Riccardi work in team with: Giovanna Paola Varni, Luigi Palopoli, Libertario Demi, Nicola Conci, Andrea Passerini and Marco Roveri (UniTrento faculty members) and Roberto Bonmassari (director of the Cardiology Unit – Trento), Stefano Bonvini (director of the Vascular Surgery Unit) and Marco Zenati (Medical Advisor Cardiac Surgery, Harvard Medical School). Alessandro Tomasi, technician and teaching assistant of the Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science, is responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the equipment.
Event programme
On Monday, 16 October at 4 pm at the Ferrari 1 Building in Povo (Via Sommarive, 5): welcome speech by the director of the Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science, Paolo Giorgini. This will be followed by addresses by the director of Cismed, Olivier Jousson, the Rector of the University of Trento Flavio Deflorian, and the president of the Fondazione Caritro, Carlo Schönsberg. Presentation of the Laboratory by Giuseppe Riccardi, professor at Disi and co-coordinator of the laboratory with professor Giorgini; address by the president of the Confindustria Trento, Fausto Manzana; live demonstration with Stefano Bonvini and Roberto Bonmassari, medical doctors of the Regional Healthcare Services, and Luigi Palopoli, professor at Disi.