Two proposals from the University of Florida College of Medicine — one that aims to build a fully immersive digital replica of operating rooms and intensive care units, and another that will enhance and expand programs in cell and gene therapy — have received $3.5 million from the UF president’s office to transform patient care.
The proposals are among several projects selected for awards through the strategic funding initiative, which UF President Ben Sasse established in order to advance interdisciplinary scholarship and enhance the student experience.
The first initiative is the Regional Center for Development of Advanced Therapeutics Based on Cell and Gene Therapy, which was awarded $1.5 million over three years. Funding will support the development of a first-of-its-kind center in the Southeast that will help bring to market novel treatments in advanced therapeutics.
“The center will be a major force in improving public health,” Sasse said. “This is such an incredible opportunity to bring an innovative, cutting-edge center to the Southeast.”
The second initiative is called Toward a Health Metaverse ($2 million over one year), and its goal is to develop the physical and digital infrastructure for an Intelligent Virtual Hospital. This will be a space in which healthcare providers and patients can virtually gather, learn, train, and create content using extended reality and Web3 applications (such as blockchain and virtual assets).
“Technology has the power to dramatically remake healthcare,” Sasse said. “This Intelligent Virtual Hospital will help revolutionize the medical field and improve public health.”
Both projects will leverage the College of Medicine's expertise to create high-impact programs that expand the frontier of medical knowledge and improve the delivery of care.
“These awards will enable the creation of a groundbreaking virtual hospital and regional center, both of which will have a transformative impact in Florida and across the region,” said Colleen Koch, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine.
The Regional Center for Development of Advanced Therapeutics will expand upon UF’s renowned expertise in cell and gene therapy. The project will be led by Barry Byrne, M.D., Ph.D., a professor and associate chair of research in the Department of Pediatrics and the director of the UF Powell Gene Therapy Center. UF partners will include faculty from the Center for Regenerative Medicine, the College of Pharmacy, the UF Health Cancer Center, the Powell Gene Therapy Center, and the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“The opportunity to develop transformative cell and gene therapy products for severe medical conditions will continue to position UF as an international leader in the new discipline of genetic medicine,” Byrne said. “We are grateful for the support of the strategic funding award to advance these innovative faculty ideas across the academic health center and to train the next generation of clinician-scientists in advanced therapeutics.”
Toward a Health Metaverse will be led by Azra Bihorac, M.D., the senior associate dean for research and the R. Glenn Davis professor of medicine, surgery, and anesthesiology in the College of Medicine.
As a responsive replica of UF Health operating and intensive care rooms, the Intelligent Virtual Hospital will simulate scenarios to optimize real-world decision making and provide a unique learning environment for healthcare providers. The hospital will allow patients and providers to connect regardless of physical location, enabling immersive patient journeys and expanding possibilities for care delivery, training, and data management.
The project has the capability to improve healthcare processes in several ways, such as establishing a virtual command center; increasing educational opportunities, including virtual boot camps for health care professionals, industry experts, and AI developers; and expanding upon research endeavors for everything from new seed grants to clinical trials. Interdisciplinary partners for the project include NVIDIA, UF Health, and UF Research Computing.
“This Intelligent Virtual Hospital will be unlike anything else in higher education, and it will bolster UF’s global and national reputation as a hub for AI in health,” Bihorac said. “By modeling and mirroring the physical hospital environment, there will be a host of exciting and innovative applications in education, scholarship, and health delivery.”