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Bell Canada part of NEEMO 9 team taking tele-robotic assisted surgery toward final frontier

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) maintains that to minimize the risk of deep-space travel, ...

April 8, 2006  

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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) maintains that to minimize the risk of deep-space travel, astronauts may need access to medical care while they are millions of kilometres from home.

As part of an international team, Bell Canada is playing a major role in the mission to test the efficacy of remote surgery, where doctor and patient are no longer side-by-side but located in different countries.

The 17-day NEEMO 9 (NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations) mission, which ends April 20 off the coast of Key Largo, Fla., is focusing on the demonstration and evaluation of innovative remote surgical technologies and techniques in an underwater environment, where extreme conditions are similar to those found in space.

Dr. Mehran Anvari, of McMaster’s Centre for Minimal Access Surgery (CMAS), will perform the operation on a patient simulator located 19 metres underwater in the Aquarius Habitat, operated by the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. He is scheduled to perform the surgery tomorrow.

Bell Canada is providing the end-to-end network for the NEEMO 9 project, which is a joint effort mission between CMAS, the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

The network technologies and services involved in this mission include Bell’s MPLS virtual private network (VPN), Bell’s high-speed dedicated Internet, site-to-site IPSec tunnel, FW security and wireless access.

Various applications are transmitted across Bell’s network, such as high-quality and low-latency MPEG2 video, Polycom video conferencing, voice, web casting and FTP service over the Internet. The VPN is based on MPLS technology from Cisco Systems Inc.

MPLS is a label-based method for forwarding IP traffic that simplifies deployment, management, scalability and flexibility of VPNs.

One area of particular interest scientists will be testing is the effect of signal latency (up to three seconds) and whether this hinders the capability to perform telerobotic surgery in remote settings on earth and for future space missions.

Miniature robotic surgical cameras in the patient simulator will be used to enhance the surgeon’s field of view.

The mission builds on the success of the NEEMO 7 mission in October 2004 and will continue to evaluate new medical diagnostic and therapeutic technologies to enhance the delivery of stateoftheart medical care in remote and harsh environments.