Volume 13, Number 12 February 24, 2006

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Professor explores surgery in space

TORONTO – If scientists can put a man on the moon, or send him into space for a few years at time, can they enable astronauts to perform complex surgical procedures there, too?

University of Toronto Surgery Professor Adam Dubrowksi doesn’t see why not, and he’s making space surgery a focus of his research. There will be a need for it once astronauts in the International Space Station begin to stay on board for extended periods, said Dubrowski, who is also a kinesiologist in the Surgical Skills Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“The longer you stay, the more potential there is for things to happen,” Dubrowski said in a news release.  Currently, astronauts get a few hours of medical training on the ground, but on longer missions, Dubrowski anticipates the crew will include a physician and a highly skilled medical assistant who are both trained in surgery.

Currently, emergencies are dealt with on board the space station and surgery can be performed using a remote-controlled robot. But as spaceships get further away from Earth, robotic surgery is no longer possible because the signals take longer to reach the mission, Dubrowski explains. And “no one understands what happens when you’re in zero gravity” and need to suture or staple a wounded person.

Dubrowski has already conducted zero-gravity research into basic motor skills like touching one’s nose or tying one’s shoes. A weightless environment affects hand-eye co-ordination, aim and ability to apply a certain amount of force when doing tasks, he says.

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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