November 6th, 2006 14:01 EST
U.S. Army Tests Mobile Robotic Surgery
Washington -- A team of U.S. Army, telecommunications and surgical experts is using an unmanned aircraft and sophisticated communication tools to take the next step in making remote surgery, or telesurgery, a reality.
Telesurgery is a new approach to surgical care in which a surgeon performs operations using a surgical robot and advanced computer technology on a patient located far away, according to a June 5 press release from the University of Cincinnati (UC) in Ohio.
Dr. Timothy Broderick, UC assistant professor of surgery and medical director for its Center for Surgical Innovation, is leading the first test of a prototype communications platform for mobile telesurgery -- high-altitude platforms for mobile robotic telesurgery (HAPsMRT).
The HAPsMRT model -- developed in collaboration with the U.S. Army`s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center and the University of Washington in Seattle -- uses an unmanned airborne vehicle as the communications connection point between a surgeon in one part of the country and a patient hundreds of kilometers away.
Reliable, high-speed communication signals are critical for telesurgery to work in day-to-day patient care, " Broderick said. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the communications lag to enable the surgeon to safely operate on a remote patient in real time. "
The two-phase telesurgery experiment takes place June 5-9, in a desolate and arid area surrounded by hills and plains between the western state of California and the state of Washington in the Pacific Northwest.
Current telesurgery tools rely on satellite communication and streaming video delivered via high-speed Internet. In remote locations, Broderick said, satellite signals are not always dependable and can result in delays that make surgery difficult.
HAPsMRT uses special communication transmissions that allow communication signals to travel over a shorter distance and with fewer delays.
In phase one of the mission, a simulated patient and robot will be located eight kilometers away from Broderick, who will sit behind the surgical robot control console and operate on the simulated patient using streaming video fed into the console from the unmanned vehicle.
In phase two of the experiment, Broderick will operate on the same patient from hundreds of kilometers away from behind a surgical robot control console at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Throughout the mission, the research team will evaluate the unmanned vehicle`s communications capabilities -- including speed and quality of video streaming, information time lapses and suturing precision -- to see how an extreme environment affects them.
We need to find better ways of delivering emergency and specialized surgical care to patients when they are hundreds of miles away from the nearest hospital, " Broderick said.
When it`s perfected, " he added, telesurgery could quickly become the medical norm for remote places, including battlefields, extremely rural towns " even space. "
The full text of the press release is available at the University of Cincinnati Web site.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)