Software, apps and physical models: Humanitas University experiments with a “hybrid” system for teaching Neurosurgery

A unique course for thesis and postgraduate students in Neurosurgery, in which students use both physical and virtual instruments. This is the innovation introduced in the Simulation Center of Humanitas University by Prof. Franco Servadei, Professor of Neurosurgery and President of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies, Prof. Federico Pessina, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, and Dr. Maurizio Fornari, Head of the Neurosurgery Operational Unit at Humanitas Research Hospital.

«The problem of teaching neurosurgical practice in the field, outside the operating theatre and the classic cadaver lab approach, has become increasingly relevant after the Covid emergency reduced the availability of operating theatres and almost cancelled the possibility of using cadavers in some cases», says Prof. Servadei. This is why new solutions are currently being considered, such as the newly born UpSurgeOn Academy, developed by UpSurgeOn    an Italian start-up funded by the European Horizon 2020 programme. UpSurgeOn offers both a digital and a physical development system, aimed at creating highly accurate anatomical and surgical models. This specific course was born from the collaboration between Humanitas University and Dr. Federico Nicolosi, UpSurgeOn CEO and neurosurgeon at Humanitas Research Hospital.

«The course involved some final year students who are writing their thesis with us and who have been attending the Neurosurgery department for at least a year as well as Humanitas’ eight residents and four residents from Bicocca University, with whom we have close collaboration» the professor continues. The lab’s work was carried out through two types of anatomical models: one is a virtual model, visible from a smartphone, a tablet or a computer with a dedicated programme. The other is a physical model, with an anatomical consistency similar to that of the brain and showing all the brain structures which are useful for a surgical approach, particularly the vascular ones. This dual system is multifunctional; on one side students can work on the model and carry out practical tests such as placing a clip on an aneurysm, while on the other side they can study surgical approaches on the application with a device.

This innovation opens up new important prospects even beyond the Covid period. «The operating theatre will remain the cornerstone of surgical learning, while the classic cadaver lab model has high costs. Replacing it with a simulation laboratory is also very expensive» Prof. Servadei explains. «The hybrid system we are testing, on the other hand, has very low costs because no special equipment is needed, just a software. It also allows a direct approach without the need for cadavers. Lastly, it can be used for several students, even for normal teaching, and can therefore have an important role in developing countries where resources are limited.»
Even the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies    has shown interest in the project and is working to spread the system around the world.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.