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First surgical robotic solution blasts off into space to test remote monitoring for Earth-based care

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 07, 2024
Health IT Operating Room Telemedicine
NASA and the University of Nebraska have launched spaceMIRA on a rocket to the International Space Station.
Scientists at NASA and the University of Nebraska have launched the first surgical robotics system on a rocket headed to the International Space Station where it will be used to test long-range remote simulated surgical care.

Dubbed spaceMIRA, the device is a modified version of the MIRA Surgical System, designed by Virtual Incision Corporation as the first miniaturized robotic-assisted surgery (miniRAS) device. Both solutions are 1,000 times lighter than current technologies on the market, weighing approximately two pounds, and are primarily designed for abdominal procedures. MIRA stands for Miniaturized In vivo Robotic Assistant.

The launch took place on January 29 via the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The cargo vehicle was docked at the ISS on February 2.

From Virtual Incision’s headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska, a surgeon will use remote-controlled technology to assess the impact that zero-gravity conditions have on the device’s ability to perform dissections under a simulation mimicking surgical tissue with tension. The aim is to not just learn how it can be used to treat astronauts in space but also whether remote surgery is a safe, feasible option on Earth for patients in rural, underserved areas and military battlefields that lack access to such care.

"We’ve already demonstrated a critical piece by creating spaceMIRA, a robot capable of performing simulated surgical tasks, but also compact enough to meet the requirements for spaceflight. This is remarkable considering that the mainframe systems available today weigh roughly 1,000 times more and typically require a dedicated operating room. On Earth, a miniaturized form factor could significantly streamline the shipping, storage and set up so that the logistics on the patient’s side are much more feasible," Shane Farritor, chief technology officer at Virtual Incision and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Nebraska, told HCB News.

For its voyage, the researchers preprogrammed the space solution with long-distance remote surgical modes. spaceMIRA and the MIRA Surgical System can be inserted into the human body, with their robotic arms mimicking the movements of human shoulders, arms, and infinite wrists of a patient to create an internal triangular configuration that allows for more optimal control, precision, and maneuverability during surgery.

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