Robotic telesurgery by remote surgeons

In a few years, telesurgery performed by multi-armed robots remotely controlled by real surgeons will become commonplace. Today, Canadian scientists are developing the technology for NASA. Their goal is to build a portable robotic unit that would be used in space missions, war zones and remote areas within five years.

In a few years, telesurgery performed by multi-armed robots remotely controlled by real surgeons located hundreds or thousands of kilometers away will become commonplace. Today, Canadian doctors from the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS) are developing the technology for NASA. Their goal is to build a portable robotic unit that would be used in space missions, war zones and remote areas within five years. So far, the experiments already done in Canada and for NASA are extremely encouraging. But read more...

Here is what writes ITWorld Canada.

In this future scenario, a multi-armed robot would perform the operation under the direction of a surgeon manipulating endoscopic cameras from a remote workstation. The robot would act as the eyes and arms of the surgeon.
This type of portable robotic unit is being developed by the Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS), a Hamilton, Ont.-based research institute, in partnership with Bell Canada, which is providing the advanced telecommunications needed for the project.

Below is a picture of Dr. Mehran Anvari, director of the CMAS, during on the dozens of experiments performed on patients located far from his lab (Credit: CMAS).

Mehran Anvari at CMAS

So when will we see robots arriving at our homes in the ambulances and ready to perform surgery?

"Our target is to complete this project in the next five years," said Dr. Mehran Anvari. He said the portable robotic unit would be used in space missions, war zones and other environments where access to surgeons is extremely difficult. "It may also be used in remote regions of the Canadian North, [from] where the government spends millions of dollars to transport patients to city hospitals," said Anvari.

Of course, there are still some hurdles to clear before this becomes reality. And one of them is the latency of signal transmissions.

However, experts agree much work needs to be done before the portable robotic unit becomes a reality. A major limitation is the time delay, or latency, that occurs when the video images and signals controlling the robotic arms are transmitted over long distances to the surgeon.

But even this problem is manageable and Anvari is confident this issue can be solved.

This development of such a portable robotic unit has been the goal of a NASA mission named NEEMO (for "NASA's Extreme Environment Mission Operation") which also involved Bell Canada and Cisco Systems and wants to develop a robotic surgeon able to work in space.

Last month, Anvari worked with NASA in Florida to perform underwater surgery on a mannequin who was in a lab 20 meters below sea level. Below is a picture of Anvari during the experiment (Credit: NASA).

Mehran Anvari at NASA

For more details about this particular experiment, you can read "Robot to perform underwater surgery" (Tom Blackwell, National Post, Canada, April 7, 2006).

And here are several links to the NEEMO mission: the former NEEMO 7 and the current NEEMO 9 phases at CMAS (with a special mention for this photo gallery; and the official page of NEEMO 9 at NASA.

Finally, for a more general background on robotic telesurgery, you should read "Researchers making progress with robotic telesurgery" (Karen Fleming-Michael, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, for dcmilitary.com, May 11, 2006).

Sources: Naunidhi Kaur, ITWorld Canada, May 19, 2006; and various web sites

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