Published May 31, 2020
TraumaCode working to finalizing prototype, preparing for in-person finals.
In February 2018, Brian Quaranto, MD, and Jinwei Hu, MD, recognized a problem with the surgical residency training process.
Exams can be expensive, simulations are “extremely resource intensive” and it’s difficult to teach students decision making tactics outside of hands-on trauma surgery service. So they came up with an idea for an immersive virtual reality-based training program.
But Quaranto’s and Hu’s idea was just that: an idea. Two years later, with the help of a team, a business plan and a prototype, this idea landed them a spot as a finalist in the Henry A. Panasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition. The team is comprised of Quaranto, co-founder and CEO; Hu, co-founder and CMO, Vito Galvez, co-founder and CTO; along with Brielle Anderson; Ashley Levine, MD; Aiden Xie, a UB computer science student. Now, the team is working to finalize the project, called TraumaCode, before the in-person Panasci finals to compete for $25,000 and in-kind services.
Although the finals were postponed due to Covid-19, the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of programs like TraumaCode.
“The need for distance learning solutions is sort of crystal clear now,” Quaranto said. “There’s some really obvious software for conventional learning, and Zoom works great. If I want to give a lecture and show you a PowerPoint slide deck, we’re done, we don’t need any more software. But how do I train someone how to be a surgeon remotely?”
The prototype offers VR simulations of surgeries as they are performed, and shows various outcomes depending on the decisions students make during the simulation. This “lifelike perspective” gives students the opportunity to observe hands-on surgeries and learn important decision making skills without stepping foot into the operating room.
This requires various legal approval processes, VR capabilities and plenty of recording time, but team members are confident they can make it happen. They’ve even successfully created a gimbal stabilized head mount for the surgery recording process.
“Normally you get this little tiny view from a camera, and now we have this huge perspective,” Quaranto said. “And if you watch it in your VR headset, you can just stay there all day. It’s like you’re there doing the case.”
While the team hopes the project will teach surgical students once it’s launched, TraumaCode has already proven its teaching capabilities.
“I learn more working on TraumaCode than I do sitting in class, and as an up-and-coming software engineer, that is everything,” Galvez said. “A lot of computer science students get internships to gain technical skill. I have not done an internship, nor do I plan to do one. I’m gaining way more than just technical skill working on this project.”
The team has grown since Quaranto, Hu and Galvez started working, and Quaranto said he hopes to continue expanding the opportunities TraumaCode provides.
“Hopefully we’ll get more medical students involved with the process, because innovation is kind of one of these things that’s part of the reason why people go to medical schools, they want to work on these cutting edge projects,” Quaranto said. “And this is a really unique opportunity.”
As a computer science student, Galvez said working on this project has proven to be difficult, but it has become “the most important thing” in his life right now.
“The amount of responsibility is daunting sometimes and I deal with a bit of imposter syndrome. I’m a 19-year-old working with 30-year-old soon-to-be surgeons on my first business venture,” Galvez said. “When starting a company, you hope it succeeds, but you understand very well that it can fail. The more energy you put into it, the more you want it to succeed so the harder you work. The only thing I can do is adapt, move forward and keep writing code.”
Although the team is limited with social distancing guidelines, everyone is still working on their minimal viable product, finalizing video content and working toward a validation study before the Panasci finals. Quaranto said that even though the finals have been postponed, the team is taking complete advantage of the time until the competition can be rescheduled.
“In the past few weeks since we’ve been given the finalist nod, I think it’s lit kind of a fire,” Quaranto said. “Especially in Vito, I mean, he’s been pushing out a lot of code and getting this thing really functioning. So it’s moving out of just being a PowerPoint and a spreadsheet with all these models and a vision, to being an actual working machine. … We’re looking forward to doing a pitch and showing them all of our progress over the summer. This is really a big opportunity and we’re taking advantage of it.”