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Monday, September 24, 2007

Robo-doc to perform weightless surgery

Robo-doc to perform weightless surgery

Don't book just yet--soon you'll be able to take a space cruise and get a face lift at the same time.

This month, researchers from SRI International and the University of Cincinnati will conduct the first-ever robotic surgery in simulated zero-gravity aboard a NASA C-9 aircraft flying 34,000 feet over the Gulf of Mexico, it was announced yesterday.

The C-9, aka the "Weightless Wonder," will simulate the microgravity of space and variable gravity of military critical care air transports by performing 40 parabolas per flight, each 18 to 25 seconds long.

The experiment will compare the precision and speed with which both human and robot surgeons can cut and stitch an incision, among other things. The SRI-developed software will help robo-doc compensate for the "errors in movement" that could be expected whether flying through space or over a battlefield in a medivac flight.

The SRI telerobotics allow the robot surgery to be controlled from thousands of miles away. When perfected, this system would allow patient care to begin the minute they close the ambulance door, according to Silicon Valley-based SRI.

"In remote telesurgery, a surgeon controls a multi-armed robot located at the patient's bedside from a distant location using a telecommunications network," SRI's Thomas Low said. "This has the potential to provide emergency medical and surgical care to astronauts during space flights, soldiers injured in battle and patients living in remote regions on Earth where there are no physicians."

SRI has already demonstrated its remote robotic surgery capabilities as part of NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operations on the Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, 60 feet below and off the coast of Key Largo.


Doctors removed a cyst in the first weightless surgery operation.

Braving queasy stomachs, a team of French doctors took to the skies Wednesday for the first operation on a human being in zero-gravity conditions, removing a cyst from the arm of a man as the aircraft soared and dived to create weightlessness.

The five-man medical team made history by slicing off the yellow growth, which floated away from the patient, tied to a string. Doctors worked in intervals of 22 seconds during conditions of weightlessness. Coincidentally, it took 22 intervals to complete the surgery.

The operation, more than three years in the making and part of a three-phase exploration of weightless surgery, paves the way toward one day performing surgery in space via a surgeon or a remotely controlled robot. It also is an experiment that may one day be instructive for a future medical emergency on the international space station.

The flight lasted three hours, but the operation took just over eight minutes - about the same amount of time that such surgery would have taken in a hospital, doctors said.

Three surgeons, two anesthetists and a cameraman were strapped to the walls with mountain climbers' gear as the aircraft dipped and soared in roller-coaster parabolas to achieve intervals of weightlessness.

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