Research Horizons


‘Surgeons Without Borders’ Virtual Reality Project Wins a Unity for Humanity Grant

Goal to help far-flung heart surgeons consult on complex cases in a live, digital ‘metaverse.’ Funding support for Unity projects includes famed singer-songwriter Jewel

A virtual reality medical training and communication tool under development at the Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute was selected among eight innovative 3D software projects to receive financial and technical support from 2024 Unity for Humanity Grant program.

The project seeks to reduce infant mortality caused by congenital heart disease (CHD) by boosting the experience of surgeons, especially in low-to-middle income countries. The team at Cincinnati Children’s has developed a VR Surgical Simulation Suite (VR3S) for detailed 3D surgical planning and is building a “Surgical Mediverse” with multiuser capabilities to help connect surgeons around the globe.

The Surgical Mediverse and VR3S platform uses a Unity-based VR gaming network to create a space for digital collaboration, aiming to enhance medical outcomes and equalize access to advanced health technologies.

“In the U.S., mortality following congenital heart surgery has dropped significantly, but that is not true across the world. In fact, tens of thousands of children die from non-complex heart defects around the world in low-resourced countries. This technology gives us the potential to partner with local surgeons to help them learn techniques that can save these children,” says David Morales, MD, co-executive director of the Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute and director of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

The team has gone beyond visualization in VR and has developed one of the first true surgical planning tools that allows surgeons to place valves, medical devices, and complex baffles on a 3D digital twin of a patient’s heart.

“Virtual reality has emerged as a cost-effective tool for online multiuser collaboration. For the first time ever, surgical experts can impact a child’s life anywhere in the world,” says Ryan Moore, MD, director of Digital Health Innovation. “This is just one more way Cincinnati Children’s, which has one of the nation’s top ranked cardiology and heart surgery programs, is changing the outcome for children worldwide.”

Unity is a large producer of 3D software products. After reviewing nearly 500 proposals, Unity selected eight creators, based on their vision, impact, inclusion, and viability. Those selected will share $500,000 in funding and receive technical support from Unity to help bring their projects to life.

The artist Jewel is a co-founder of the Inspiring Children Foundation (ICF) and the emerging metaverse-based mental health platform, Innerworld. In addition to financial support, Jewel served as a guest judge to review the applicants and select honorees.

Morales and Moore also received funding from Turner Farm Foundation in 2023 to accelerate development of a Congenital Heart Surgical Mediverse.

Read about all eight grant winners


Research By

David L.S. Morales, MD
David L.S. Morales, MD
Executive Co-Director, Heart Institute and Director, Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery
Ryan Moore, MD, MSc
Ryan Moore, MD, MSc
Director, Digital Health Innovation, Heart Institute