[ skip to content ]


Old Dominion University and Eastern Virginia Medical School, frequent partners in education and biomedical research ventures, have launched a joint program to advance the use of modeling and simulation in medicine.

The National Center for Collaboration in Medical Modeling and Simulation was recently recognized by Congress and provided with initial funding through the Department of Defense. The center will seek additional public and private funding as it works to develop, validate and commercialize ways to enhance medical training and care.

The center is only the latest link between EVMS and ODU. In addition to two joint doctoral programs (Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences and Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology) and the Masters of Public Health program, scientists from the two schools collaborate on a number of research projects.

"Our collaboration with Old Dominion University over more than two decades has been extraordinarily fruitful," said EVMS President J. Sumner Bell, M.D. "This new center is yet another example of how we can draw on the identified strengths within each of our institutions to make a difference in the community."

Roseann Runte, Ph.D., president of Old Dominion University, is equally enthusiastic.

"Old Dominion and EVMS have collaborated on a large number of joint research projects over the years," Runte said. "Today we celebrate the inauguration of a joint center for medical modeling and simulation. We are delighted to enjoy a closer relationship which gives our students entry to such a fine medical school and which enables researchers in engineering, biology and computer science to join medical scientists to push knowledge to new limits in exciting fields like bioinformatics and biotechnology.

"The proximity of the two institutions and our excellent relationship is an asset to the Hampton Roads region. Together we combine valuable talents which will be the source of new grants and enhance this region's economic development."

The U.S. military has long shown an interest in modeling and simulation as a way to keep its physicians and surgeons prepared for wartime conditions, according to R. Bowen Loftin, Ph.D., director of simulation programs at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) at ODU. Loftin and C. Donald Combs, Ph.D., vice president for planning and program development at EVMS, conceived the idea for the center and decided to seek national funding for the venture. They won the support from several key allies.

Rear Admiral Clinton E. Adams, commanding officer of the Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, endorsed the idea, as did James A. Zimble, M.D., president of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Virginia's Congressional delegation also put its weight behind the proposal. Senators John Warner and George Allen sponsored the Senate budget amendment that included funding for the center. Representative Ed Schrock, who represents Virginia's second congressional district, sponsored the budget amendment in the House.

"I am happy to help EVMS and ODU on this important joint venture," Schrock said. "Medical modeling and simulation has a fantastic future as a teaching tool and an effective means of improving the quality of patient care on the battlefield, in the hospital and in the office. I will continue to work to secure federal funding for this project."

The new center merges the technical expertise of VMASC at ODU with EVMS' medical knowledge and its extensive experience in patient simulation through the Theresa Thomas Professional Skills Teaching and Assessment Center at EVMS.

VMASC, an enterprise center of Old Dominion's College of Engineering and Technology, is one of the world's leading institutions devoted to applying modeling and simulation to solve the problems of government and industry. ODU hosts one of the nation's two doctoral programs in modeling and simulation. EVMS is a worldwide leader in the use of standardized patients to teach physical examination skills to medical personnel. (Standardized patients are healthy individuals who are trained to portray real patients.)

Using their complimentary experiences and capabilities, ODU and EVMS want to help advance promising technologies developed by the military. One key interest in military circles is the development of computer-based simulations to aid in preparing physicians and surgeons for battlefield conditions. Ideally, the simulation would be portable -- for use on a video game console, for instance -- so that a doctor could use deployment time to learn new techniques or refresh seldom used skills.

Loftin, an expert in validation, hopes to use Portsmouth Naval Hospital, the Unformed Services University of the Health Sciences and EVMS as testbeds to assure the accuracy and efficacy of models and simulations. And as simulations are proven effective, the center wants to help transfer that technology beyond the battlefield to medical and health professions schools as well as to public and private health care systems.

Another goal of the new center will be to develop the next generation of standardized patient training to help students and professionals improve their knowledge and competence in practice.

"One of the shortcomings of our current approach with standardized patients is that the actors are not in fact sick and you can't feel, you can't hear, you can't see some of the medical and surgical conditions that are being simulated," Combs said. "This training is very effective, but it could be even better."

To enhance the standardized patient encounter, the center, for example, might use the computer to simulate physical findings that the patient can't mimic, said Gayle McConvey, director of the Theresa Thomas Center.

"I envision that a student will walk in, perform the physical examination on the standardized patient and then turn to the computer to get those physical findings -- those sounds, the touch, the smell." The student then would turn back to the "patient" to discuss the results of the examination and treatment options.

McConvey also foresees interactive computerized simulations based on the case material developed at the Theresa Thomas center over the course of nearly seven years. Using existing recordings of many interactions between students and standardized patients concerning the same medical case, the center could develop an extensive inventory of possible questions and responses to make a computer-simulated case as realistic as possible.

Simulation is a natural way to learn some medical procedures, McConvey said. For instance, the Theresa Thomas Center recently purchased a computer-based model that simulates the use of a colonoscope, a device used to examine the colon. Physicians in training view the simulated image of a colon on the computer screen as they practice conducting an exam using a handheld device attached to the computer.

"The whole idea is to have something that's not a purely visual world," Loftin said. "We want to be able to include all the sensory stimuli required."

A key component of the new center will be establishing cooperative ventures with other institutions and companies in the all aspects of modeling and simulation research, application development and commercialization.

"We want to embrace other people with similar interests and try to be a catalyst for a high degree of cooperation between the various groups working in this area," Loftin said.

Cooperation is one of the center's greatest strengths, Combs added. "We know how to collaborate effectively."

This article was posted on: January 29, 2002

Old Dominion University
Office of University Relations

Room 100 Koch Hall Norfolk, Virginia 23529-0018
Telephone: 757-683-3114

Old Dominion University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.