Friday, April 20, 2007

Can rocket science build a better brain surgeon?

Doctors and scientists at the University of Calgary have developed a surgical robot that's MRI compatible. That means that a brain surgeon sitting at a computer screen can remotely perform surgery on a patient while getting detailed MRI images of the surgery. Pretty neat!

"Many of our microsurgical techniques evolved in the 1960s, and have pushed surgeons to the limits of their precision, accuracy, dexterity and stamina," says Dr. Sutherland, professor of neurosurgery, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine and the Calgary Health Region. "NeuroArm dramatically enhances the spatial resolution at which surgeons operate, and shifts surgery from the organ towards the cell level."

Designed to be controlled by a surgeon from a computer workstation, neuroArm operates in conjunction with real-time MR imaging, providing surgeons unprecedented detail and control, enabling them to manipulate tools at a microscopic scale. Advanced surgical testing of neuroArm is currently underway, followed by the first patient, anticipated for this summer.

The neuroArm should significantly improve brain surgery by allowing neurologists to do things they can only dream about today.

"The best surgeons in the world can work within an eighth of an inch. NeuroArm makes it possible for surgeons to work accurately within the width of a hair," Doc Seaman says. "This will put us on the world stage and will help attract more top people in medicine and surgery, which will benefit the university and the community as a whole."

And it really is rocket science.

A global search for robotics expertise led Sutherland to MDA, a perfect fit for neuroArm because of the company's background in creating specialized space robots, used aboard NASA space shuttles and the International Space Station.

"NeuroArm is a great fit for us, allowing us to apply our world-renowned space solutions to medical applications that will benefit patients here on Earth," says Bruce Mack, vice-president of development programs of MDA's Brampton operations. "The combination of our remote operation and sensory information expertise, coupled with our manipulation technologies, will enable improved decision making and performance in the operating theatre."

Developing neuroArm required an international collaboration of health professionals, physicists, electrical, software, optical and mechanical engineers to build a robot capable of operating safely in a surgical suite and within the strong magnetic field of the intraoperative MRI environment.

A collaboration between brain surgeons and rocket scientists: there has to be a joke in there somewhere.

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