Global Surgical Training Institute to Establish U.S. Headquarters in Charlotte

03.14.2022 Atrium Health News

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Mar. 14, 2022 Innovation is already beginning to emerge at Charlotte’s new innovation district, “The Pearl.” IRCAD, the French-based research and training institute for the world’s finest surgeons, announced today that The Pearl is its first choice to establish its exclusive North American headquarters. The institute would anchor the first research building in the soon-to-be-constructed The Pearl innovation district, along with the forthcoming campus of Wake Forest University School of Medicine – Charlotte.

IRCAD specializes in educating physicians from around the world in minimally invasive surgery techniques. It also features fundamental research laboratories and research and development units in computer science and robotics that design and develop tools for diagnosis, surgical planning and simulation aimed at improving and making surgical procedures safer. Founded in 1994, IRCAD opened on the grounds of the University Hospital of Strasbourg, France, and has expanded to six training centers in five countries, but none in North America. It currently trains more than 7,200 physicians annually in 18 specialties and maintains the no-cost training website WeBSurg, the world’s leading destination for online education in minimally invasive surgery.

“When we at Atrium Health launched our vision to build Charlotte’s first innovation district, our goal was to attract leading companies from across the globe with the reputation – and more importantly, the impact – of IRCAD,” said Eugene A. Woods, president and CEO of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Atrium Health. “We envision IRCAD being a ‘super magnet,’ attracting businesses, physicians and surgeons to train and collaborate in the latest surgical techniques, including: robotics, medical virtual and augmented reality, surgical artificial intelligence and simulation training.

“IRCAD will also help bring together educators, learners, physicians, scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors from around the world to The Pearl. Without question, in combination with the Innovation Quarter in Winston-Salem, the state of North Carolina will be the epicenter for global health innovation, education and research,” he said.

“We have been looking for the right North American partner for some time,” said Professor Jacques Marescaux (mare-ehs-kó), a surgeon and the president and founder of IRCAD. “We weighed opportunities with some of the most prominent names in academic medicine but, for us, aligning with the rising star of Atrium Health and its renowned clinical excellence is the perfect fit. Having the opportunity to become part of the new innovation district and its proximity to Wake Forest University School of Medicine – Charlotte, in its formative stages, will allow us to grow and excel together as we train the world’s best surgeons with the latest technology, innovations and techniques.” 

Atrium Health leaders have emphasized future physicians trained at Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s campuses in both Charlotte and Winston-Salem will have access to the most cutting-edge technology as part of their core training. Having IRCAD as part of the Charlotte innovation district will provide an ideal opportunity for collaborative training and research.

Virtual reality represents one of the strongest assets of IRCAD’s institute. Its current technology has the capability to translate real-life data into a digital format – transforming a patient’s medical images into a 3D, virtual clone. This allows a surgeon to prepare for surgery using the clone to realistically simulate the process to be performed. This is expected to lead to augmented reality approaches which could automate certain processes using surgical robotics, which is another IRCAD field of excellence.

Leaders from Atrium Health and IRCAD are working in tandem to create a public-private partnership to help underwrite the start-up costs needed to ensure the training center can be built to the exacting standards and with the appropriate technology that must be in place to deliver such highly specialized training. Financial and technology commitments have already been secured from some leading life science technology firms. Discussions are continuing with donors, corporate interests and government leaders to secure the necessary additional funding.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the innovation district would not be possible without the public-private partnerships and support we have forged with our city and county government leaders,” added Woods. “Yet, we will still need additional, significant financial commitments from both the public and private sectors to make this vision a reality. We look forward to working with others who see the value in this unique opportunity to bring an industry-leading international headquarters to North Carolina and add to its already impressive portfolio of life sciences and health sciences companies here in the state.”

IRCAD is an acronym for Institut de Recherche contre les Cancers de l'Appareil Digestif, which is French for Institute for Research into Cancer of the Digestive System. Marescaux is a professor of digestive surgery. His accomplishments are many, including being designated in 2021 as a Commander of the Legion of Honor, the highest French decoration, which recognizes outstanding, long-term, personal merit in service to the nation and in benefit to others, such as in science or education, among others.

When fully operational, IRCAD North America is expected to attract thousands of medical professionals to Charlotte each year to train and collaborate in the latest surgical techniques, including robotics, medical virtual and augmented reality, surgical artificial intelligence and simulation training.

The new IRCAD North America headquarters could open as soon as 2025, pending the additional funding being secured.

Located at the intersection of Baxter and McDowell streets in midtown Charlotte, Wake Forest University School of Medicine – Charlotte and The Pearl innovation district are expected to break ground in mid- to late-2022. The Pearl will be a mixed-use development featuring education, retail, apartments, a hotel and an open community space, in addition to being ground-zero for entrepreneurial activity, research and development that is expected to reshape the economy of the Charlotte region. Over the next 15 years, it is projected to create more than 5,500 onsite jobs and more than 11,500 jobs, in total, in the Charlotte region.  

About Atrium Health
Atrium Health is a nationally recognized leader in shaping health outcomes through innovative research, education and compassionate patient care. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Atrium Health is an integrated, nonprofit health system with more than 70,000 teammates serving patients at 40 hospitals and more than 1,400 care locations. It provides care under the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist name in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, region, as well as Atrium Health Navicent and Atrium Health Floyd in Georgia and Alabama. Atrium Health is renowned for its top-ranked pediatric, cancer and heart care, as well as organ transplants, burn treatments and specialized musculoskeletal programs. A recognized leader in experiential medical education and groundbreaking research, Wake Forest University School of Medicine is the academic core of the enterprise, including Wake Forest Innovations, which is advancing new medical technologies and biomedical discoveries. Atrium Health is also a leading-edge innovator in virtual care and mobile medicine, providing care close to home and in the home. Ranked nationally among U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals in eight pediatric specialties and for rehabilitation, Atrium Health has also received the American Hospital Association’s Quest for Quality Prize and its 2021 Carolyn Boone Lewis Equity of Care Award, as well as the 2020 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Health Equity Award for its efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in care. With a commitment to every community it serves, Atrium Health seeks to improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all, providing more than $2 billion per year in free and uncompensated care and other community benefits.