February 27, 2024

Space Station surgery experiment portends bright future for exploration, Earth-based medicine

Editor's Note

Surgeons in Lincoln, Nebraska performed the first “operation” in space via remote control of a robot wielding scissors to cut through rubber bands, a historic first that has implications beyond space travel. Space.com reported the news February 22.

Guided by onboard cameras and facing nearly second-long communications delays, the team simulated surgical cuts on ten rubber bands stretched across metal panels to simulate human flesh. "You have to wait a little bit for the movement to happen; it’s definitely slower movements than you're used to in the operating room," said Michael Jobst, a Lincoln-based colorectal surgeon.

The team operated from the headquarters of Virtual Incision, the private company that developed the two-armed spaceMIRA (Miniaturized In Vivo Robotic Assistant) robot in association with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Capability for teams of Earth-based specialists to perform surgery in space will help keep astronauts healthy on missions like Artemis (NASA’s plan for landing humans on the moon as early as 2026), exploring Mars, and potentially venturing even farther into the solar system.

The simulated surgery is just one aspect of a broader set of research that could also impact healthcare back on Earth. One example cited in the Space.com report is research into preventing—and possibly even treating—bone loss, an application just as critical for aging and bedbound population as for spending long periods of time in space.    

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