McGill University to partner with industry in developing virtual-reality training platform for spinal surgery

Platform leverages the latest innovations in Graphic Processing Unit computing to provide new advancements for spinal-surgery training
Published: 11 June 2018

McGill University today announces an agreement with CAE Healthcare, and DePuy Synthes Products, Inc., part of the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies, to develop a Virtual Reality (VR) platform to train orthopedic and neurosurgeons in advanced spinal surgery techniques. The new platform will leverage Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) technology and Finite Element Method (FEM) modeling to create a real life surgical simulation environment using haptics with the potential to drastically reduce the training time for spine surgeons. A major portion of funding for the project is being provided by The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and The Quebec Consortium for Industrial Research and Innovation in Medical Technology (MEDTEQ).

Spinal surgeries continue to grow in number while surgical procedures become more complex. For example, spinal surgeries involving fusions in the US rose to 413,171 cases in 2008 which was a 240% increase over figures from 1998[1]. Globally, the number of spine fusion surgeries is expected to reach 3.4 million in 2020[2]. Despite this demand, training spine surgeons to use minimally-invasive spine (MIS) surgery techniques and reducing the learning curve remains one of the challenges facing the adoption of MIS technologies in spine surgery.

The new VR surgical training platform will provide a visual and tactile interface with which a clinician interacts by means of surgical tools connected to haptic controls that simulate complex clinical pathologies and intraoperative challenges. The increased capacities of GPU-based computing will deliver real-time feedback to provide the sensory experience of actual open-spine surgery. Use of VR as a surgical training method has been shown to result in improved patient care[3], superior accuracy, and faster speeds for the surgeon.[4] The commercial market for VR applications in the healthcare industry is estimated to reach $3.8 billion globally by 2020[5].

“The development of this novel physics-driven VR platform will be a major milestone in the training of future surgeons and is intended to benefit thousands of spinal patients around the world,” said Professor Mark Driscoll, Faculty of Engineering, McGill University and Principal Investigator on the project. “It will also offer significant benefits to the Faculty of Engineering as we deepen our working relationships with world leading companies who are also seeking to advance the state of the art in VR surgical training.”

“Revolutionary medical devices allowing new, disruptive interventional procedures are being developed at an ever-faster rate. These technological advances are transformative and necessitate simulation-based training for the operators, due to their radically different approach and manipulation,” said Dr. Robert Amyot, president of CAE Healthcare. “We are delighted to partner with the world-class faculty at McGill University and the market leader in spinal surgery to provide the software platform for an innovative training solution that will allow surgeons to complete their learning curve in a safe environment, and we thank our financial partners MEDTEQ and NSERC for their support.”

“This Collaborative Research and Development project demonstrates strong R&D collaboration between Canada’s top researchers, industry and federal and provincial governments,” said Dr. Marc Fortin, Vice-President, Research Partnerships, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. “NSERC is proud to support this project that aims to build an innovative simulation tool based on virtual reality and haptic devices to better train doctors in spine surgery. Results from this partnership will eventually translate into significant benefits for patients, industry, and Canada’s health care system.”

 “We are delighted to support financially this innovative project through our RSRI program, funded by the Quebec Ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation,” said Diane Côté, CEO of MEDTEQ. “This virtual reality technology will be a major breakthrough in spinal surgery training and our surgeons’ performance. Accelerating the development of innovative technological solutions to improve patients’ health and quality of life is at the core of MEDTEQ. We warmly congratulate McGill University, CAE Healthcare and DePuy Synthes Spine for their initiative.”

About CAE Healthcare
CAE Healthcare delivers educational tools that help healthcare professionals provide safe, high quality patient care. Our end-to-end spectrum of simulation solutions includes patient, interventional and imaging simulation, audiovisual solutions and learning applications. Find out more at

About McGill University
Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill is a leading Canadian post-secondary institution. It has two campuses, 10 faculties, 12 professional schools, 300 programs of study and almost 41,000 students, including more than 9,700 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, its 12,000 international students making up 30% per cent of the student body. Over half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including approximately 20% of our students who say French is their mother tongue. Find out more at

About The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
NSERC invests over $1.2 billion each year in natural sciences and engineering research in Canada. Our investments deliver discoveries—valuable world-firsts in knowledge claimed by a brain trust of over 11,000 professors. Our investments enable partnerships and collaborations that connect industry with discoveries and the people behind them. Researcher-industry partnerships established by NSERC help inform research and development and solve scale-up challenges. NSERC also provides scholarships and hands-on training experience for more than 30,000 post-secondary students and post-doctoral fellows. These young researchers will be the next generation of science and engineering leaders in Canada. Find out more at

About Quebec Consortium for Industrial Research and Innovation in Medical Technology (MEDTEQ)
MEDTEQ is the Quebec Consortium for Industrial Research and Innovation in Medical Technology. Its mission is to accelerate the development of innovative technological solutions to improve patients’ health and quality of life. MEDTEQ supports their validation and integration in the healthcare system and their impact, both locally and globally, by bringing together the complementary skills of industrial and academic partners with those of healthcare providers. To find out more, visit

[1] Rajaee S, et al. (2012) Spinal Fusion in the United States: analysis of trends from 1998 to 2008. Spine, 37(1): 67-76
[2] According to GlobalData Medi Point “Spinal Fusion – Global Analysis and Market Forecast, published June 2014
[3] American Physical Therapy Association (
[4] National Center for Biotechnology Information (
[5] Global Industry Analysts (


For more information on this release contact:

Junji Nishihata
Faculty Communications Officer
Faculty of Engineering
McGill University
T: +1-514-398-2454
junji.nishihata [at]


Valérie Levert-Gagnon
Media and Public Affairs Officer
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
T: +1-613-996-2341
media [at]


Kim Cartlidge
Marketing Communications
CAE Healthcare
T. +1-941-536-2759  

kim.cartlidge [at]


Jennifer Hatoum
Communications Advisor
Innovitech (MEDTEQ)
T: +1-514-398-9772
jennifer.hatoum [at]


Back to top