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MITAC supports Science on NASA’s KC-135

MITAC conducted peer-reviewed research aboard NASA’s KC-135 ‘parabolic flight laboratory’. The MITAC team includes technical support staff as well as Dr. Timothy Broderick-- the Principal Investigator of this research. In late June 2003, a group of twenty individuals visited NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center to evaluate the effectiveness of surgical simulation as a means to train astronauts for surgery in microgravity. The research, entitled “Computer-Based Virtual Reality Surgical Simulation in Microgravity”, was conducted on NASA’s KC-135 airplane. The KC-135 used as parabolic flight creates brief intervals of microgravity during which the team could evaluate the effects of microgravity on surgical training.

The study compared performance of basic surgical skills on a commercially available computer-based surgical simulator called the LapSim to performance of these same skills on an inanimate surgical simulator. These experiments were the first to use a VR surgical simulator that had been specially programmed to simulate surgery in weightlessness. Surgical skills were evaluated in categories of participants that included astronauts, flight surgeons, physicians, surgeons and technical support staff. The participants were evaluated on the KC-135 after completing training on the ground over the preceding six days. All participants successfully performed the required tasks and the collected data will help determine the optimal surgical training method for long during space flight. A follow-up study to evaluate a VR simulator that incorporates haptics – the sense of touch – is planned for next year.

Collaboration in Baku City, Azerbaijan

MITAC Director, Dr. Ronald Merrell, recently accompanied a group of medical personnel to Baku City, Azerbaijan to explore surgical opportunities in both teaching and practice. The trip was sponsored through a grant from the American International Health Alliance (AIHA) under the direction of Dr. David Marsland. During the visit, Dr. Merrell met with Baku City Health Officials, Dr. Ildirimzadeh, Head of Binagady District Health System; Dr. Methliyev, Director of the Baku City Hospital #6, Dr. Veliyev, Head of Surgery Department; and Dr. Sikhamedov, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the Azerbaijan State University. The discussions focused on surgical practice, education, and telemedicine. There was tremendous interest in the concepts of telemedicine. These were of course tempered by the challenges that the Azeri’s face in addressing health issues in Azerbaijan.

Dr. Merrell participated in lectures at the Baku City Hospital #6 in “Ambulatory Surgery” and “Thyroid Nodule.” He had an opportunity to participate in Surgery Rounds and performed a demonstrative endocrine surgery as a way of sharing knowledge. A lecture was also given on Telemedicine for the hospital’s physicians and the university’s medical faculties. The visit has resulted in a commitment for closer cooperation in surgery and education between VCU, Azerbaijan State University, Hospital #6 and Binagady District Health System.

MITAC and TATRC Collaboration

The MITAC and the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC), which is the US Army’s center for telemedicine research and development, have signed a Memorandum of Agreement to pursue common area of mutual interest in telemedicine. The MOA marks a new chapter in collaboration. It provides a foundation with which to share ideas and lessons learned. During the course of the next several years, MITAC will work with TATRC in several areas. These include international telemedicine and Operating Room of the Future.

Doarn re-elected Secretary of ATA, April 2003

MITAC’s Executive Director, Charles Doarn was elected to a second term as the ATA’s Secretary. Mr. Doarn will serve on the ATA executive board as Secretary through the ATA’s annual meeting in May of 2004.

Emerging Technologies at VCU, April 2003

MITAC personnel participated in various activities during VCU’s Emerging Technologies Day, April 24, 2003. Mr. Charles Doarn, MITAC executive director, moderated a presentation on technology used in surgery. This presentation included three sites on VCU’s Medical College of Virginia campus linked to the auditorium through VCU’s LAN. The conferencing units used 768Kbps of bandwidth, which provided an excellent link for the audience to interact with Dr. Timothy Broderick, who was located in one of the main operating rooms in the VCU Health System. Dr. Broderick discussed with the audience the surgical procedure he was conducting. The other two sites included the surgery laboratory, where Dr. Lucian Panait demonstrated the utility of Computer Motion’s Zeus robot and the MITAC laboratory, where Dr. Azhar Rafiq demonstrated the LapSim surgical simulator.

In the afternoon, Mr. Brett Harnett presented a summary of two MITAC projects, LionHeart and ShadowBowl. A poster presenting the VCU Health System telemedicine activity was also on display. Ms. Debbie Justis, clinical coordinator of telemedicine for the VCU Health System, was available for questions and answers.

MITAC Board of Director’s Meeting, April 2003

April 21, 2003, marked the mid-year board meeting of the MITAC. The meeting provided an opportunity for MITAC management to convey to the Board its progress on meeting the current year’s goals and objectives through its multifaceted activities. MITAC senior management provided a review of the 2002 annual report, the current year’s annual operating plan, and how MITAC is meeting this plan. MITAC staff provided additional presentations on MITAC projects. These projects included Shadow Bowl, Lionheart, and the peer-reviewed NASA research on Virtual Reality Surgical Simulation in Microgravity. The board, which is comprised of extramural participants from industry, academia, and government, provided valuable advice to MITAC at this mid year time. A summary report will be made available in the coming weeks.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST)

MITAC served as a co-sponsor in the NASA/VCU FIRST Robotics Competition, March 6-8, 2003. MITAC Director, Ronald C. Merrell, M.D. served as a judge. MITAC's Brett Harnett worked the floor of the event, providing technical support as necessary and appropriate. FIRST has developed a national robotics competition that provides high school aged boys and girls an opportunity to express their interest and skills in science and technology. Such events are of critical importance as they serve as a forum for young adults to observe first hand the challenges of science and engineering and more importantly the unlimited possibilities. MITAC is very much involved in education and sharing knowledge.

Dr. Broderick receives a NASA research award

Dr. Timothy J. Broderick, general surgeon and consultant to MITAC in telesurgery and robotics recently was awarded a NASA research grant. The research, entitled “Computer-based Virtual Reality Simulation in Microgravity”, will be supported by the MITAC. This research will evaluate the effectiveness of virtual reality training as a method to teach astronauts to perform surgery in space. The research will be conducted on the ground and on NASA’s KC-135 airplane, based at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. This facility provides short periods of microgravity – approximately 25-30 seconds - during parabolic flight. During both ground-based evaluations and KC-135 flights, basic surgical skills of 20 participants will be evaluated using a state-of-the-art, commercially available computer-based surgical simulator called the LapSim (Surgical Science, Goteborg, Sweden) and an inanimate surgical environment. These experiments are the first to evaluate a microgravity surgical simulator that has been specifically programmed to simulate surgery in weightlessness.

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