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Research under realistic clinical conditions: ZHAW Digital Health Lab is a partner of the OR-X research and teaching centre

The OR-X (Operating Room X) surgical research and teaching centre at Balgrist University Hospital has been recognised by the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) as a research infrastructure of national significance. The ZHAW Digital Health Lab, which is researching digital health technologies in the OR-X, is also involved in setting it up.

The skills lab at OR-X, where the surgeons are trained. Image: © Balgrist University Hospital | Daniel Hager

The OR-X (Operating Room X) is a state-of-the-art centre for surgical research, development and teaching. The centrepieces of OR-X are the fully equipped operating room and a skills lab, which provides an optimal environment for the development of surgical innovations and for the training of surgeons. The founder and initiator of OR-X is Mazda Farshad, Medical director of Balgrist University Hospital, who heads the research centre together with Philipp Fürnstahl, Professor of Orthopedic Computer Science at Balgrist, and Thomas Huggler, Managing director at Balgrist. As part of the inclusion of the OR-X in the roadmap for research infrastructures by SERI, it received the highest level of excellence (grade A) from the Swiss National Fund. The OR-X is currently in test operation and will be ceremonially opened on 24 August 2023.

Inclusion in the roadmap is based on a proposal from Balgrist with the University of Zurich as the leading house, in which several ZHAW researchers were actively involved: Sven Hirsch, professor of computational health at the Institute of Computational Life Sciences (ICLS) and head of the ZHAW Digital Health Lab, Thilo Stadelmann, head of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence (CAI), and Helmut Grabner, professor of data analytics and machine learning at the Institute for Data Analysis and Process Design (IDP).

Accelerating the development of novel technologies

For Sven Hirsch, the research centre offers a globally unique infrastructure for research and training in the operating room: "The OR-X offers realistic clinical conditions and at the same time is highly technical and completely digitalised. Relevant topics for future research and teaching projects are in the areas of augmented reality/virtual reality, multimodal imaging, real-time AI applications as well as in the development of digital patient twins and assistive robotics. The proximity to the clinic enables interdisciplinary teams to develop new concepts and solve complex problems with practical relevance. This accelerates development and brings a real boost to innovation. We are very pleased to be able to contribute the strengths of the ZHAW in prototyping and sustainable technology transfer. The potential is huge, and I look forward to filling it with life together." The ZHAW Digital Health Lab can profitably contribute its strength in applied research and build on the well-established collaboration with Balgrist.

Many opportunities for human-AI teaming

For Thilo Stadelmann, the OR-X is also a space for research into human-AI teaming, for example the profitable interaction between humans and artificial intelligence (AI) in decision-making: "Computer Vision (CV) systems for medical imaging based on deep neural networks have been applied successfully to problems of large practical importance. Yet, they usually don’t learn after deployment and won’t interact with a human operator beyond the fully automatic issuing of their decisions. This leaves potential untapped, as human and machine should be considered complementary. To exploit this complementarity means to aim at human-AI teaming, characterized by having joint objectives with collaborative decision-making."

"Proficiency" project already uses OR-X infrastructure

The Innosuisse project "Proficiency", in which the ZHAW School of Engineering is involved, already uses the OR-X infrastructure. For Helmut Grabner, the teaching and research centre at Balgrist is the basis for new types of surgical education and training, "technological innovations in computer vision and 3D graphics enable novel methods of surgery both in clinical practice and in teaching. As the ZHAW, we help translate basic research into applied practice."

Contact for further information

Prof. Dr. Sven Hirsch, Professor of Computational Health at ZHAW Institute of Computational Life Sciences (ICLS) and head of the ZHAW Digital Health Lab

Prof. Dr. Thilo Stadelmann, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, head of the ZHAW Centre for Artificial Intelligence (CAI)

Prof. Dr. Helmut Grabner, professor of data analytics and machine learning at the ZHAW Institute for Data Analysis and Process Design (IDP), Delegate Entrepreneurship School of Engineering

Contact address for bookings of OR-X (from August 24, 2023):


Press release Balgrist University Hospital