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French doctors to perform zero-gravity surgery in plane
The Associated Press
PARIS — French doctors say they will perform the world's first zero-gravity surgery Wednesday, operating on a man in an airplane as it arcs and dives in and out of weightlessness.
The experiment by the French National Center for Space Studies is an effort to develop robotic techniques for future surgeries in space, the doctors said. The surgeons will be strapped to the walls of the aircraft as they remove a cyst from a man's forearm in a three-hour operation.
The surgery will be performed aboard a modified Airbus A300 designed to perform roller-coaster-like maneuvers that simulate weightlessness. It will make about 30 such parabolas during the flight.
The operation, announced Monday by chief surgeon Dominique Martin and the French space agency, is part of a project backed by the European Space Agency that aims to develop Earth-guided surgical space robots.
The patient, Philippe Sanchot, was chosen because he is an avid bungee-jumper and is accustomed to dramatic gravitational shifts, said Frederique Albertoni, a spokeswoman for the Bordeaux hospital where Martin works.
Sanchot and the six-member medical team underwent training in zero-gravity machines — much like astronauts use — to prepare for the operation.
Albertoni said the cyst-removal operation was chosen because it is relatively simple and involves a local anesthetic.
The doctors say their experience Wednesday could help in the development of robots to perform surgeries in space.
"There are all sorts of interesting dilemmas with surgery in space," said Dr. Joseph LoCicero, chief of thoracic surgery at Maimonides Medical Center in New York, who is not involved in the project. "Without gravity, things could float around," he said, referring to blood and surgical instruments.
From a surgeon's perspective, LoCicero said, there would be multiple problems. "We use gravity as an orientation tool, and perceptions would certainly change in space," he said, adding that the application of force and precise surgical movements could be compromised in a weightless atmosphere.
"An astronaut aboard the international space station may very well need emergency surgery, to relieve an intra-cranial hematoma for example. At this time, it would not be possible. But quite a simple robot would be sufficient for such an operation," he said.
Martin and his team became the first doctors to perform microsurgery under zero-gravity conditions this year, mending the artery in a rat's tail.
Already, surgeons use robots in about 300 hospitals worldwide to repair faulty heart valves and perform other procedures. But most are conducted with doctors stationed at a console near the patient — not from afar.
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