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Zero-gravity tool makes surgery in space possible

In space, blood and bodily fluids can't be contained during a surgery, so for medical emergencies, astronauts must be evacuated to Earth. A new tool could make astro-surgery possible.
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Written by Janet Fang, Contributing Editor on

On Earth, an infected abscess is fairly straightforward to treat: open and drain. On a spaceship headed to Mars or to an asteroid, however, the procedure could kill everyone onboard.

In zero gravity, blood and bodily fluids can’t be contained – making it impossible to perform surgery in space without contaminating the whole cabin. But for extended stays in deep space, trauma and other medical emergencies are very likely.

So researchers from Carnegie Mellon and University of Louisville began developing an astro-surgical tool that could help. It’s called the Aqueous Immersion Surgical System (AISS). New Scientist explains:

  • AISS is a clear box that creates a watertight seal when placed over a wound and pumped full of sterile saline solution.
  • The saline solution is held under pressure inside the AISS to prevent blood from seeping out of the wound.
  • Airtight holes allow doctors to access the submerged wound using handheld instruments and scopes.
  • It can also be used to siphon and recycle blood by varying the pressure within the device. This saves blood, which is important since there’s no blood bank in space.
  • And maybe, a surgeon on Earth could assist with surgical procedures via a teleoperated robot using the the device.

In order to determine if the system will actually keep blood inside the body and out of the surgeon’s field of view, the device is being tested aboard NASA’s zero-gravity C-9 aircraft -- where researchers will perform surgery on a pig heart and on an artificial coronary system filled with synthetic blood.

International Space Station astronauts might be increasing their stay from 6 months to a year. Right now, if a medical emergency happens, the only option is to evacuate the astronaut back to Earth.

[Via New Scientist, University of Louisville news]

Image via University of Louisville

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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