Monday, February 17, 2014

NewSpace Technologies for Medicine

          by Sarah Ansari-Manea

The Neuroarm at work. Photo c/o CSA.
Medicine and Canadian space technology have met once again to combine two seemingly separate fields of study, in a beautiful and life saving way.

MacDonald, Dettwiler (MDA) and the University of Calgary have teamed up to build neuroArm, the world’s first robot able to perform microsurgery and stereotaxy inside magnetic resonance machines (MRI).

NeuroArm was built using the same state of the art technology seen in the Canadarm and Dextre, two Canadian space robots capable of a large variety of tasks currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS), according to the July 22nd, 2013 post "neuroArm: Robotic arms lend a healing touch" on the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) website. According to the post:
This concept presented a number of unique challenges. How could a machine be created to be as precise and dexterous as the human hand, without compromising surgical technique? How could a machine with cameras, motors and actuators be made from non-ferromagnetic materials so as not to be affected by the magnet or adversely affect the images? Would the machine be capable of being integrated into surgical procedure with minimal disruption to the traditional workflow?
The neuroArm project looked to show that the addition of robotic and space technology in the operating room would be revolutionary and life changing for many patients and surgeons. The project started back in 2002, and was unveiled globally in 2007,2 but, throughout the past year, has been used to trigger a movement whereby the benefits of space technology are studied and appreciated.

NeuroArm had its first moment of glory in 2008, whereby a critical and delicate surgery was completed successfully, helping doctors remove a life-threatening tumor from the brain of 21 year old. Since then dozens of patients have benefited from this marriage of space and medical technology. 1

MDA is continuing to use their brilliant and life changing technology for good, by partnering with the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto, on a robotic arm to aid in surgical procedures on small children and babies. MDA is also working on an autonomous robot that will aid in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

Sarah Ansari-Manea.
Everyday, new, unheard of inventions and space technologies are influencing and helping in our daily lives, and it is wonderful that several influential ones are based and developed in Canada.

Sarah Ansari-Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

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