Sunday, September 5, 2004

Robots in space?

Applications weighed

By Tim Bonfield
Enquirer staff writer

While Greater Cincinnati doctors debate the immediate, practical benefits of robotic surgery, Dr. Tim Broderick is deeply immersed in the long-term future of the technology.

Broderick is working with the U.S. Army and with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on ways to use robotic surgery as part of telemedicine systems to be used in battlefields or on space missions. These efforts likely will influence how robots might be used in civilian medicine.

"Better care is possible with robotic surgery," Broderick said. "But to be useful, the costs have to come down and the technology has to prove that it improves quality."

Some of the most dramatic advances in robotic surgery have occurred mostly outside of the United States, Broderick said, in part because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is more restrictive than regulators in other nations:

• In September 2001, just days before the infamous terrorist attacks, a doctor sitting in New York guided a robot to remove the gall bladder of a woman in France.

• In Canada, Dr. Mehran Anvari has performed 22 robotic surgeries at distances beyond 400 kilometers.

• In October, Broderick will be part of a long-distance surgery experiment to be performed during a mission called NEEMO 7.

The project will have a doctor in Canada guiding robotic surgery to be conducted aboard the Aquarius undersea research station submerged off the Florida Keys. The 10-day mission is part of a partnership between NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which owns the Aquarius habitat.

Aquarius is about the size of one of the modules of the International Space Station. So NASA is using the station to train astronauts.

In April, Broderick will perform another long-distance robot surgery demonstration for the U.S. Army as part of the American Telemedicine Association's annual meeting in Denver.


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