Performing a surgery while a patient is inside a magnetic resonance (MRI) machine was next to impossible until the invention of neuroArm, the world's first robot with this capability.
An article published in the Canadian Space Agency website said that the technology that was used with neuroArm came from the space agency's family of robots, Canadarm (developed by MDA for the US Space Shuttle Program), Canadarm2 and Dextre, which perform heavy lifting and maintenance on board the International Space Station.
The development of neuroArm started with a surgical dilemma, the report said, which is to make difficult surgeries easier or impossible surgeries possible. Specifically, the problem was how can a surgeon perform surgery while the patient was inside a magnetic resonance machine.
Together with a team led by Dr. Garnette Sutherland of the University of Calgary, MDA developed a precise robotic arm that will work with the advanced imaging capabilities of MRI systems. This meant that the robotic arm was as dexterous as the human hand but more precise and tremor free, and that it had to be entirely made from non-magnetic materials so it would not be affected by the MRI's magnetic field.
In 2008, the neuroArm was used in a surgical procedure involving Paige Nickason's. Since then the neuroArm has been used to successfully treat dozens more patients. A private publicly traded medical device manufacturer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, IMRIS purchased the neuroArm technology.
Further developments are to be expected as MDA and IMRIS are now in the process of producing a two-arm commercial version of the system that will allow surgeons to see detailed three-dimensional images of the brain, as well as surgical tools and hand controllers for use of surgeons to feel tissue and apply pressure when doing an operation.
Dr. Sutherland is currently conducting a clinic trial at Calgary's Foothills hospital using the first generation of the robot. IMRIS anticipates being in a position to seek regulatory approval for the robot as early as 2012.
Meanwhile, the MDA is pursuing to apply its space technologies and know-how to medical solutions for life on Earth, partnering with the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to collaborate on the design and development of an advanced technology solution for pediatric surgery.
Dubbed KidsArm, the sophisticated tele-operated surgical system's design is for operations on small children and babies, particularly in conjunction with a high precision real-time imaging technology, to reconnect delicate vessels such as veins, arteries, or intestines., the Canadian Space Agency report said.