French surgeon team scores a first with experimental intervention under weightless conditions

Bordeaux 27 September 2006Professor Dominique Martin, Dr. Laurent de Coninck, anaesthesist at the University Hospital Medical Centers (CHU) in Bordeaux, France and their team have performed a weightless surgical intervention on a male patient. Together with their patient, they went aboard an aircraft in which it was possible to simulate the conditions of weightlessness during a three-hour flight. During this experiment, set up in collaboration with the French National Center of Aerospatial Studies (C.N.E.S.) and the Regional Council of Aquitaine, the surgeon was able to remove a cyst in the forearm of Philippe Sanchot, the 46-year old patient.

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The project, which started in 2003, has offered the opportunity to demonstrate that complex surgical movements such as the repair of a 0,5 mm vein under a microscope, can be done under weightless conditions. The second phase in 2006 in fact constitutes a feasibility test to try out a surgical module that has been developed by the team. If successful, new perspectives can be taken into account including surgery during space travel, development of technologies used under extreme conditions on Earth, etc.

This high-technology project could also function as a surgical assistance pilot in the framework of the deployment of a future moonbase which should be operational in ten to fifteen years from now.

Additionally, alternative developments are also possible. The space context constitutes an ideal experimental platform to implement sophisticated technologies such as a robot guided from the ground by satellite.

Telesurgery by satellite will be a necessary milestone for tomorrow's surgery. One day, a specialist located in Singapore will be able to participate in a surgical intervention which will actually take place in New York or the other way round. Professor Martin and his team already are partnering with the Army Staff to safeguard the project's further evolution in tight collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and to manufacture specific tools in the perspective of possible industrial breakdown.

Another project deliverable consists in the development of mobile surgery units built according to the module that was taken aboard the aircraft OG, used in the experiment. These mobile units can be transported to places that were hit by natural or human disasters. The initial steps for production of a model that no longer is limited to spatial constraints but can pay useful services in cases of surgical emergency in a catastrophe, have already been taken. This task is undertaken in partnership with the Ascensud Enterprise which will take care of the development.

Partners in this project are the CHU in Bordeaux as the promoter; the French National Center of Aerospatial Studies (C.N.E.S.); the European Space Agency (ESA); Novespace, a CNES subsidiary and service operator of the OG aircraft; and the Regional Council of Aquitaine. Project sponsors are Ethicon, a global manufacturer of surgical thread, and the Michel Gourdy Laboratory.


Leslie Versweyveld

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