Research News

Innovation Ecosystems in Digital Surgery

  • 11 June, 2021


Yesterday, UCD and IBM Research in Ireland hosted its annual research colloquium with a focus on the emerging research, and clinical and commercialisation opportunities in digital surgery in Ireland. The event gave a range of Irish and international experts representing perspectives from academia, industry, healthcare and government an opportunity to explore what it will take to position Ireland at the forefront of this new field of study and application. The virtual event was organised in partnership between UCD Research, IBM Research in Ireland, UCD Centre for Precision Surgery, and UCD Institute for Discovery.

Digital surgery represents a step change in that medical field by drawing together advances in computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and smart instruments with surgical expertise during operations. It unlocks unique capabilities through the integration of real-time surgical data with new technologies and is already beginning to deliver real impact in the way surgeries are performed to cure diseases, delivering enhanced healthcare value and outcomes.

This year’s colloquium included contributions from a range of leading scientists and practitioners from UCD Schools of Medicine and of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, IBM Research Europe, Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Deciphex, Medtronic, HealthTech Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Stryker, Palliare, and IRCAD, France.

The event was delivered over two sessions. Session 1 focused on emerging surgical technologies and showcased the world class digital surgery research being undertaken at the university with industry partners. Both the clinical and technological perspective was highlighted before a demonstration of the current digital surgery ecosystem in action, made possible by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) programme. This real-world example of digital surgery led to an engaging panel discussion from the academic, multinational, and small and medium-sized enterprise communities.

During Session 2, presentations and discussions delved into advancing the national ecosystem with an aim to position Ireland as a leader in this exciting new era. Industry perspectives highlighted Ireland’s strengths and opportunities in this area, as well as potential challenges for business in Ireland, culminating in a panel discussion with viewpoints from university, public hospital, government funding agency, and industry representatives.

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Dr Leo Varaker, TD co-opened the event, saying: “The Government’s Economic Recovery Plan, launched earlier this month, seeks to nurture the kind of collaboration we see here today. We recognise that Ireland must adapt to the future of greater digitalisation and automation.”

The Tánaiste went on to emphasise that “an ability to embrace disruptive innovation through collaboration and industrial research… is a central tenet of DTIF and [this] demonstrates the partnership approach essential for a thriving digital surgery ecosystem. The audience today is a cross-section of SMEs, multinationals, academics, and medical professionals – the perfect mix for exploring issues and generating ideas.”

Vice President for Research, Innovation and Impact at UCD, Professor Orla Feely said: “In UCD we seek to deliver excellent research and innovation, drawing on all our expertise across disciplines, working with partners, making a real difference to the world. And the area of ‘Digital Surgery’ is a great example of where this can work to dramatic effect.

“I want to thank our wonderful partners in IBM, with whom we are organising this event. It is great to work with partners who understand and share the mission and ambitions, where we have complimentary skills and expertise, that together we can bring to bear on the one of the most interesting problems that now confront us.

“I hope the day leads us to a new point in our national journey in relation to digital surgery and comes up with a way forward to allow Ireland and UCD, and all those involved today to really take an international lead in a space of enormous and transformative potential.”

Director of Research at IBM Research Europe in Ireland, Dr Rouyi Zhou said in her opening address: “Over the last five years, [UCD and IBM Research] have deepened and broadened our partnership in exciting and new emerging research areas, ranging from cognitive IoT, deeper learning, and quantum computing. What you are about to see today is another emerging and exciting new area, Digital Surgery, which is truly multidisciplinary and disruptive. We hope that today’s colloquium will ignite a national digital surgery ecosystem in Ireland.”