Low-Gravity Astrosurgery at UofL

UofL Bioengineering helps to advance surgery techniques used in low-gravity space exploration

BE and Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Professor George Pantalos and a team of UofL medical students recently tested new technology for performing surgery in outer space by evaluating an astrosurgery device in simulated zero-gravity conditions aboard NASA’s C-9B aircraft. The team included Ishita Jain, a graduate of UofL’s Bioengineering program, now in her second year in the UofL School of Medicine.  The airplane creates weightless conditions by performing a cycle of ascents and steep descents.  During the parabolas or peaks between each ascent and descent cycle, the interior of the aircraft experiences near-zero gravity conditions and weightlessness experiments can be conducted.  Motion pictures such as “Apollo 13” have employed NASA’s weightless simulation aircraft to film weightlessness scenes.

The low-gravity experiments conducted aboard the aircraft were comprised of “Earth-gravitational” surgical procedures, such as suturing and draping, wound-waste fluid collection, newly-developed endoscopic tool use and testing, and filling and emptying of a surgical containment dome without bubbles, all of which were successfully completed.  The plane performed 7 zero-gravity and 3 lunar-gravity profiles demonstrating procedural differences with respect to gravitational force (or lack thereof) allowing researchers to devise improvements for surgeries performed in space exploration and colonization conditions.

Starting with preliminary electronic designs developed by Jain and the original manual control box, Dr. Thomas Roussel, Bioengineering professor, and Garrett Sheilds, a BE Masters student, spent the summer working in the Bioinstrumentation Lab designing a microcontroller-based circuit that was used to provide enhanced control over the fluid experiments. Jain said, "It was an opportunity that I could not pass up and an experience that I will never forget! I had a wonderful time working with Dr. Pantalos and Dr. Roussel and being part of a great team of students."

Dr. Pantalos recognized the entire student team's efforts by simply stating, "(I) could not have done it without them!"