telesurgery.jpgFor decades, telemedicine guru and former MASH surgeon Dr. Richard Satava has been pushing the Defense Department to fund systems for remote and robotically-controlled operating rooms. He's not mentioned in the AP article below. But you can see his fingerprints all over this $12 million Darpa grant to "develop an unmanned 'trauma pod' designed to use robots to perform full scalpel-and-stitch surgeries on wounded soldiers in battlefield conditions."

"The main challenge is how can we get high-quality medical care onto the battlefield as close to the action and as close to the soldiers as possible," said John Bashkin, head of business development at SRI International, a nonprofit laboratory that often handles Defense Department research. "Right now, the resources are pretty limited to what a medic can carry with him." SRI researchers caution that the project remains at least a decade away from appearing on any battlefields. Surgeons will need to manipulate the robot in real time, using technology that prevents any delays between their commands and the robot's actions. The "trauma pod" has to keep connected wirelessly without giving away its position to the enemy, and it has to be nimble and hardy enough to perform under fire. Still, some of the initial technology is already being put to use in hospitals, and the goal of the initial $12 million project is relatively modest researchers hope to show that a surgeon, operating the robot remotely, can stitch together two blood vessels of a pig... SRI spearheaded the Pentagon's first such endeavor to develop a "telesurgery" system in the 1980s. The resulting robot, dubbed the da Vinci Surgical System, proved to be too bulky and too dependent on too many humans to be used in battle. But the Food and Drug Administration approved the da Vinci in 2000 for civilian medical use and surgeons now use the $1.3 million machines in about 300 hospitals worldwide to remove cancerous prostates, repair faulty heart valves and other procedures.
Of course, this isn't the only Darpa telesurgery program. Not by a long shot. A bunch of others are covered here. A few months back, I wrote about an unmanned ambulance experiment that's being funded by the Army. And here is an article I wrote back in '03 about Dr. Satava's efforts to digitally recreate every element of a soldier's body, and embed it all on a chip in the soldier's dog tags.
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