NASA's NEEMO Undersea Mission Demonstrates Image-Guided Remote Surgery | SRI International

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SRI International Joins NASA's NEEMO 12 Undersea Mission to Demonstrate Image-Guided Remote Surgery

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- May 3, 2007 -- In collaboration with the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 12 undersea mission, independent research institute SRI International will present the first demonstration of an image-guided remote, or telerobotic, surgery at the American Telemedicine Conference on May 11 in Nashville, Tennessee. SRI will commence the demonstration at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) exhibit at the conference.

The NEEMO 12 mission takes place on board the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Aquarius Underwater Laboratory, located more than 900 miles from Nashville and 60 feet underwater off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington operates Aquarius on behalf of NOAA. This "extreme environment" allows astronauts and other crewmembers to experience some of the same tasks and challenges as they would in space. NEEMO 12 is the first undersea mission to include a NASA flight surgeon who joins a surgeon from the University of Cincinnati and two NASA astronauts for the 12-day mission.

SRI's goal is to show the feasibility of remote, telerobotic surgery in an extreme environment similar to a space mission.  In a procedure similar to starting a patient IV or the insertion of a catheter, a needle will be inserted into an anatomical patient model during the demonstration guided by robot-acquired ultrasound images from a portable ultrasound instrument.  SonoSite Inc. is providing their MicroMaxx® ultrasound system for use in the experiment.

In the 2006 NEEMO 9 mission, SRI successfully demonstrated the first extreme environment telerobotic surgery, where a robotic surgical interface was controlled 1,500 miles away from a surgical robot that performed several tasks, including vascular suturing.   

"SRI is showing its most advanced telesurgery capabilities in this latest NEEMO mission," said Thomas Low, director of SRI's medical systems program. "During the 2006 NEEMO 9 mission, we successfully demonstrated traditional surgical procedures in an extreme environment. In NEEMO 12, we will show advanced procedures done remotely with supervised autonomy."

An advanced user interface will allow NEEMO 12 operators to switch between three-dimensional and ultrasound views. Both imaging modalities will be integrated into the system.

This year, the University of Washington joins the NEEMO team, and will demonstrate their Raven surgical robot.

SRI's robotic surgical system is small enough for compact storage and easy assembly should an astronaut require emergency surgery. Medical procedures demonstrated and refined during NEEMO missions will help surgeons overcome time latency issues and may one day be used to respond to improve the care of astronauts on future missions. The technology could also be applied in situations on Earth where there is limited access to medical care.

SRI pioneered telepresence surgery during the 1980s with the development of a telerobotic system that offers a surgeon the full sensory experience of conventional hands-on surgical procedures while being minimally invasive to the patient. In 1995, SRI spun off Intuitive Surgical Inc. [NASDAQ: ISRG] to bring that breakthrough technology to market. Today, Intuitive Surgical is the global leader in the rapidly emerging field of robotic-assisted minimally-invasive surgery.

Crew journals, live webcam views, images and aquanaut profiles.

To access NASA Digital Learning Network’s NEEMO 12 podcast.


About SRI International
Silicon Valley-based SRI International ( is one of the world’s leading independent research and technology development organizations. Founded as Stanford Research Institute in 1946, SRI has been meeting the strategic needs of clients for more than 60 years. The nonprofit research institute performs client-sponsored research and development for government agencies, commercial businesses, and private foundations. In addition to conducting contract R&D, SRI licenses its technologies, forms strategic partnerships, and creates spin-off companies.

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