Virtual Incision’s Surgical Robot Heading to the International Space Station

It will assess the impact of zero gravity when performing simulated surgical tasks.

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Virtual Incision Corporation, the developer of the MIRA Surgical System (MIRA), announced that spaceMIRA is currently in transit to the International Space Station. The device is aboard a Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft carried by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The 2024 technology demonstration mission is driven by a grant awarded from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the University of Nebraska through the Established Program to Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program.

Testing with spaceMIRA on the International Space Station will assess the impact of zero gravity when performing simulated surgical tasks. During a portion of the experiment, a surgeon operator at Virtual Incision’s headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska will utilize remote-controlled technology to direct the movements of the robot.

Learnings about remote surgery could potentially impact healthcare in space and across the globe. In the U.S. alone, one-third of counties do not currently have access to a local surgeon, and the shortage of surgeons could rise to more than 30,000 within the next ten years. Remote surgery could serve as an option for these patients by enabling procedures to be performed from a distant location.

The ideal device for these applications would be controlled by a surgeon through a console, enabling them to direct the movements of a camera and instruments inside the patient's body. This type of technology, called robotic-assisted surgery (RAS), has been available for decades. While some exploratory work in remote surgery has been conducted, it is still typically performed with the surgeon in the same operating room as the patient. Although there are many complexities associated with remote operations, miniaturization of RAS could be a breakthrough by dramatically simplifying workflows at the site where the patient is located.

MIRA, the first miniaturized robotic-assisted surgery (miniRAS) device in development, is roughly 1,000 times lighter than existing technologies. As the only small form factor RAS device, it has the potential to make remote surgery more feasible by enabling transportation, storage, and setup time at an unprecedented scale. The University of Nebraska researchers leveraged MIRA’s unique design to create an iteration that enables pre-programmed as well as long-distance remote surgery operation modes.

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