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Pictured: (l-r) Robert Sharl, Deniz Yoruk, Lukman Akanbi, Muhammad Bilal, Shazad Ashraf, Harry Conway, Xi Guo, Sophia Tarr

In a bid to advance healthcare through cutting-edge technology, BCU and surgeons from University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) have set up a collaboration aimed at accelerating the adoption of extended reality (XR) solutions in clinical pathways at STEAMhouse. This collaboration focuses on supporting clinicians with data fusion, visual computing, data-driven decision-making, and collaboration at scale. This has a clear objective of advancing the colorectal cancer care pathway. Our collaborative endeavour is to develop digital innovations to support clinicians in performing their routine tasks across the spectrum of primary, secondary and tertiary care settings.

At the forefront of this initiative lies the Surgical Metaverse Project—a brainchild of a collaboration involving researchers from the Faculty of Business, Law, and Social Sciences (BLSS), Faculty of Health, Education, and Life Sciences (HELS), School of Computing and Digital Technology, and STEAMhouse. Working closely with expert NHS clinicians, our aim is to identify and address areas where XR and metaverse solutions can be designed and deployed within clinical settings to tackle perennial clinical problems. Through meaningful demonstrations and tangible use cases, we aim to showcase the transformative potential of this remarkable digital innovation to improve the quality of care.

The journey commenced with a co-creation workshop held on Monday, 4th March 2024. This was attended by Dr Shazad Ashraf, an expert colorectal cancer surgeon with a research interest in digital interventions leading to care pathway optimisation. He provided invaluable clinical insights into real-world issues in the healthcare sector. Accompanying him were colleagues with a diverse range of expertise, that included deployment of AI to address “problems in complex systems” as well as experts in gaming technology. The team included Natalie Quinn-Walker, Robert Sharl, Deniz Yoruk, Muhammad Bilal, Harry Conway, Xi Guo, Sophia Tarr, Lukman Akanbi, Shishank Shishank, and Vikas Kumar, from numerous BCU colleges.

During this collaborative session, Dr Ashraf discussed a range of clinical challenges, from waiting times for rapid diagnostic testing to cancer treatment planning, as well as multimodal data integration, multidisciplinary team collaboration, and effective communication. It became increasingly evident that emerging technologies such as XR and the metaverse hold tremendous promise in digitizing several functions in the clinical workflow, thereby facilitating improved patient safety, enhanced productivity, and efficiency, and ultimately, superior healthcare delivery for patients.

Harry Conway, the innovation manager at STEAMhouse, kicked off the session with a brief overview of STEAMhouse and the objectives of the engagement workshop. Then, Professor Muhammad Bilal led the discussions around healthcare pathway topics, strengths, and weaknesses of state-of-the-art (SOTA) technologies, potential areas that can benefit from XR solutions, barriers, and clinical support for long-term collaboration. All colleagues contributed to the discussions throughout the session.

Co-Creation Workshop on XR in Healthcare with Dr. Shazad Ashraf at the STEAMhouse Challenge Lab


During discussions regarding the innovative “Surgical Metaverse” concept, Professor Muhammad Bilal elaborated on the vision of creating a virtual environment tailored for immersive experiences, specifically designed to enhance the efficiency of routine clinical tasks for stakeholders. Leveraging advanced AI-based multimodal data analysis and visual computing algorithms, the proposed platform aims to empower clinicians with greater precision and accuracy in task execution.

Dr Ashraf further delved into the transformative potential of modernizing multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings through immersive interactions and compelling storytelling. Emphasizing the integration of AI-assisted analytics and multi-modal registration processes during pre-MDT preparations, he underscored the importance of capturing discussions leading to critical clinical decisions that focus on surgical interventions, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. The challenges of patient follow-up were also discussed.

The collaborative workshop is an integral component of STEAMhouse. The team provided collaborating clinicians with an insightful tour of BCU’s cutting-edge STEAMhouse facility—an innovative commercial innovation centre renowned for its enterprise activities in the region. Through interactive demonstrations, the STEAMhouse team showcased the university’s proficiency in AI and XR technologies, highlighting their potential in driving robust digital health innovations.

Concluding the workshop on a note of optimism, Dr Ashraf reiterated the strength of the team’s diversity and its commitment to harnessing collaborative expertise aimed at defining a comprehensive roadmap for translational research. With a shared objective of facilitating a seamless integration of XR technologies in healthcare, these co-creation workshops lay the foundation for future research and development activities of the cluster.

This project is part of BCU’s Research Investment Fund (RIF) funded scheme and involves the following team members: