New pipeline will develop virtual reality for medical education

Joseph Siu, PhD, and Joe Runge, JD

Joseph Siu, PhD, and Joe Runge, JD

The Omaha Virtual Reality Pipeline, a collaboration between UNMC, UNeTech, University of Nebraska at Omaha computer science and Metro Community College design, interactivity and media arts, was recently established through a $1.3 million, four-year training grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Joe Runge, JD, associate director of UNeTech, serves as principal investigator of the grant, which is part of the U.S. Economic Development Adminstration’s “Build to Scale” program to spur tech entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth.

The Omaha Virtual Reality Pipeline will train computer science or design and media arts undergraduate and graduate students at UNO, Metro and UNMC to develop virtual reality technology and programs for medical education, said co-investigator Joseph Siu, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy and Director of Global Health Opportunities Program in the UNMC College of Allied Health Professions.

“This is about the use of virtual reality to develop programs or training environments for medical students, fellows and residents to acquire their surgical or clinical skills,” Dr. Siu said.

These products would not be as high-end or permanent as found in the Davis Global Center, for example. But rather, portable, lower-cost training modules and systems geared toward the health professions. Users may learn through a VR headset wherever they may be.

“That really speaks to the diversity of virtual reality, especially as the technology is now,” Dr. Runge said.

The Omaha Virtual Reality Pipeline won’t just train students to make products, but also pledges to launch three VR startups for which these trainees will serve as a workforce. The virtual reality pipeline aims to contribute to economic development through creating a VR “cluster.”

The project builds upon work done by UNMC, UNeTech and UNeMed going back to the 2010s. The Nebraska VR Network for Education & Research, a University of Nebraska System Science Planning Grant, is a current example. Dr. Siu is principal investigator of that grant.

The Omaha Virtual Reality Pipeline works with undergraduates at Metro and UNO and graduate students, including at UNMC, who may have interest in game development.

“It’s a cool opportunity for us to work with students from all across the city who are more interested in that game development point of view, but now this grant also connects them to information science technology,” Dr. Runge said. The students may now use these skills to find a new career path, while educating future and current medical professionals.

The students will work on teamwork while learning agile-based software development. Meanwhile, the researchers can glean information on creating better products.

“What’s cool about these commercial VR systems is that we can pull a substantial amount of data from the machines as people engage in that participation and really start to get interesting hypothesis driven science that we can apply to that data to see trends that we need to look for as we start to train medical professionals,” Dr. Runge said.

Three Metro students have already signed on to become the first team working on an intubation simulation in VR, Dr. Runge said.


  1. Peggy Moore says:

    Way Cool! Congratulations Joseph and Joe this is in great hands.

  2. D.J. Thayer says:

    Great work to both Joe and Joseph!!!

  3. Bethany R Lowndes says:

    Congratulations, Joseph and Joe! This is exciting work that will continue to support education and innovation at UNMC.

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    Exciting and great news! Congrats!

  5. Marsha Morien says:

    Exciting opportunity!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.