Drake-Hunterian Neurovascular Laboratory

The Drake-Hunterian Neurosurgical Laboratory was established by Dr. Stephen Lownie in 2009 to provide neurosurgery residents and Charles Drake fellows a facility in which to develop and hone their neurosurgical and neurointerventional skills. The lab has since grown to provide opportunities using low-level and high-level simulators and live biological models, under the guidance of Research Coordinator, Lynn Denning.

Trainees develop microsurgical skills using advanced neurosurgical microscopes and microneurosurgical instrumentation and sutures. Neurointerventional techniques are honed in live models using contemporary microcatheters and devices, including microcoils, flow diverters and thrombus retrieval catheters used to treat aneurysms, AVM’s and strokes. All skills are evaluated to ensure the trainees exit the program with highly developed skill sets.

After many years of evaluating the benefit of training PGY-2 neurosurgery residents in microsurgical skills, it was determined the training was essential to the development of excellence in neurosurgery. Accordingly it became a component of the formal neurosurgery residency curriculum.  Presently all PGY-2 neurosurgery residents train using cadaveric and live biological models, one afternoon per week for six months. The training includes four micro-vascular modules each of which is repeated five times.

Each module is video-recorded and documented using numerous surgical parameters for subsequent analysis and statistical evaluation.  The training enhances the trainee’s hand–eye coordination, decreases surgical procedure times and improves skills prior to entering the clinical neurosurgery operating room setting as senior resident.

The Drake-Hunterian Lab has also enabled trainees to undertake research projects during their clinical training years.

Examples include:

  • Dr. Thomas Mattingly (Drake Fellow 2011-2013) who completed a concurrent M.Sc. in Medical Biophysics at Western, conducting ground breaking research in stroke. His thesis, “Selective Brain Cooling” demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in ischemic stroke volume in a swine model of MCA occlusion, and may develop into a potential intervention for acute stroke patients.
  • Dr. Faizal Haji (Western Neurosurgery 2009-2017) began a project in neurosurgical education in 2009 evaluating neurosurgical skills training utilizing models of cerebrovascular disease. His work garnered a number of awards and helped foster Dr. Haji’s career interest in neurosurgical education and simulation.

The Drake-Hunterian Lab continues to increase simulation training to complement live biological models and, in turn, produce highly skilled trainees. Dr. Jonathan Lau recently developed a laminectomy and a durotomy model to be included in the training modules. We are currently working on introducing stereotactic brain tumor models and mapping models to neurosurgery skills training.

In addition to skills training, in the nine short years since the Drake-Hunterian Lab was established, trainees have produced a number of presentations, posters and peer-reviewed papers drawing on their research, a remarkable tribute to Drs. Drake and Hunter and to the lab’s vision of the importance of experimentation in surgery.