Feb. 19, 2020

Cardiac surgeon invents simulator to help teach new trainees how to suture the heart

Daniel Holloway built the prototype device at home when he was a resident; now current residents use it to improve their proficiency

Daniel Holloway was a cardiac surgery resident when he created a simulator to help him practise the technically challenging task of suturing the heart during surgery. Working with Innovate Calgary, Dr. Holloway, MD, an assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine, secured a patent for the training device.

The accomplishment recently earned him recognition as a 2019 Peak Scholar by University of Calgary President Ed McCauley.

“Securing the patent has been a steep learning curve and something quite different from my normal day job, but I enjoyed it,” says Holloway.

Prototype built at home

The busy surgeon developed the simulator at home, creating the circuit board and electronics, developing the model using 3D printing and carefully choosing the silicone product that best replicates a surgeon’s experience while sewing through tissue.

Several prototypes later, the simulator uses electronics to measure the time required to perform randomly assigned suturing tasks at varying angles. The idea is to improve the efficiency and proficiency of suturing on and around the heart.

The device is now being used on a regular basis by residents at the Foothills Medical Centre and has inspired a bit of friendly competition between trainees. The device was also at the centre of a competition involving trainees from across the country at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, held in Montreal last fall.

Chief resident Holly Smith practices her suturing skills

Chief resident Holly Smith practices her suturing skills under Daniel Holloway’s watchful eye.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

“Two of our [local] residents won the competition,” says Holloway with a laugh, noting the device was well received, not only because it is fun to use, but also because it helps develop the critical skills surgeons need.

Having the simulator showcased at the largest cardiology conference in Canada has created a demand for the product. Holloway says his next step will be in the manufacturing and business side of his invention.

Dr. William Kent, MD, the director of the cardiac surgery residency training program, is proud of Holloway.

“Dr. Holloway is a tremendous innovator, and his suture simulator is novel, simple and highly effective for teaching basic suturing skills,” he says. “With his simulator, he has contributed to the surgical training of residents in Calgary, and I expect that it will be a component of training at every centre. We are very proud of Dr. Holloway's success and the recognition it will bring Calgary and our training program.”

Dr. Imtiaz Ali, MD, the chief of cardiac surgery, says Holloway’s project is a good example of the excellence of the Libin’s cardiac surgery program.

“We are proud of the quality of our surgical program, which attracts some of the top trainees in Canada,” he says. “Dr. Holloway’s invention is a good example of the innovation that our team strives for each day. We are pleased he has been recognized.”

Holloway completed his surgical training at UCalgary in 2017 before heading to Northwestern University in Chicago, where he completed a fellowship in mechanical circulatory support and cardiac transplant before returning to Calgary to practice.

Daniel Holloway

Daniel Holloway