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New State-of-the-Art Innovation Lab Leads Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) into the 21st Century.

By Susan Eymann, MS16 Jan 2024

On September 15, 2020, during the dark first year of the COVID epidemic, a new 17,000 square-foot Surgical Innovation Training Laboratory (SITL) was officially opened with a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI), part of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dr. Fady T. Charbel, FAANS, FACS, Chair of the NPI, Head and Residency Program Director, Department of Neurosurgery, and Richard L. and Gertrude W. Fruin Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, notes, “The SITL embodies the expanded vision for the NPI to move into the future along the two main axes of Robotics and Artificial intelligence. Students, trainees, and experts from the medical sciences as well as industry, learn and innovate together in a state-of-the-art facility with access to the most advanced technologies in an ideal learning environment.”

The $8.8 million laboratory was the brainchild of Pier Cristoforo Giulianotti MD, FACS, Professor and Head of the Department of Surgery, who with Enrico Benedetti, MD, FACS, Warren H. Cole Chair in Surgery, Dr. Charbel, and many others who envisioned transforming a derelict, condemned former neurosurgery laboratory in the basement of the NPI into a world-class training center for surgeons from all over the world. It was the culmination of years of planning and fundraising led jointly by the Department of Neurosurgery, the Department of Surgery, and the Robotic Surgery Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The SITL facility is now available for hands-on training and simulation for all surgical disciplines. A full range of modern surgical training tools, including several robotic units, are available for use by surgeons of all levels of expertise. Direct feeds from operating rooms can be transmitted to a large classroom area with three modular units that can be combined for a total maximal capacity of up to 200 learners.

NPI – First of Its Kind in the United States

Since its inception, the University of Illinois at Chicago’s NPI was a trendsetter. Combining all neuroscience disciplines (neurosurgery, neurology, research, and psychiatry) under one roof, the NPI became the first such institute in the United States. Its cornerstone was laid in 1938. Completed on the eve of the United States entering World War II, the first surgery at the NPI was performed on December 9, 1941.

The institute was the vision of Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Harold Douglas Singer and others including Mr. A.L. Bowen, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Welfare, who aspired to “construct a state-of-the-art comprehensive treatment-centered hospital for neurologically and psychiatrically “afflicted” patients that would be a model for the rest of the country and the world.”

University of Illinois at Chicago Neuropsychiatric InstituteThe building was constructed to mimic the anatomy of the brain. It consists of two tower buildings, the North Tower for neurology/ neurosurgery, which represents the left hemisphere of the brain, and the South “psychiatric” Tower which represents the right hemisphere of the brain. The two towers are connected by a lower building representing the corpus callosum. Histological cerebral slices and spinal vertebrae are sculpted on the outer walls of the building in the courtyard entranceway. The building includes inpatient and outpatient areas, open-air areas, a lecture auditorium, air-cooled operating rooms, a neuropathology laboratory, neuroradiology services, and dedicated neurophysiological and neuroanatomical research space.

Dr. Eric Oldberg, the last resident of the founder of modern neurosurgery Dr. Harvey Cushing at Brigham Hospital in Boston, was the first Head of the Division of Neurology and Neurological Surgery in the North Tower, with 54 beds and research laboratories. The Division of Psychiatry in the South Tower, with 98 beds and research laboratories, was first headed by Dr. Francis J. Gerty.

Over its seventy-year history, the NPI has had only five chairs: Dr. Eric Oldberg from 1936 to 1971; Dr. Oscar Sugar from 1971 to 1981; Dr. Robert Crowell from 1982 to 1989; Dr. James Ausman from 1991 to 2001; and Dr. Fady T. Charbel from 2001 to the present. Its Departments of Neurology & Neurosurgery are leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of all types of neurological disorders. Nationally and internationally recognized neurologists and neurosurgeons provide expert treatment for conditions and diseases of the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system, including stroke, brain aneurysm, brain tumors, and degenerative spinal disease. Located on the expansive campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the NPI draws on expertise from its highly ranked schools of engineering and medicine- the largest in the nation.