In the near future, NASA and other space agencies will send a man beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 50 years. Astronauts will spend long periods of time on expeditions to the Moon and Mars, where medical assistance, including operational ones, may be required. To prevent this from becoming a critical problem, engineers at the University of Nebraska and the local Innovative Campus have developed a surgical robot to perform operations autonomously.

Image: Virtual Incision

The robot was named Miniaturized In-vivo Robotic Assistant (MIRA). In 2024, it will be delivered to the ISS to be tested in zero gravity.

MIRA has been developed for almost 20 years by the Virtual Incision startup, founded by Shane Farritor and former professor of surgery Dmitry Oleinikov. The company managed to attract more than $100 million in investments, and NASA provided it with a grant for another $100,000 to prepare a surgical robot for testing on the space station.

MIRA is a fairly versatile device. It is able to introduce instruments through small incisions, which allows for minimally invasive interventions. The system also supports telemedicine technologies, thanks to which operations can be performed remotely, and is also able to work without human intervention at all.

Preparation of MIRA for testing on the ISS will continue throughout the next year. For the device, it is necessary to create the appropriate software and test for reliability so that the robot can withstand the flight into space.

Now MIRA is trained on artificial materials that mimic the human body. This is necessary to reproduce delicate operations. So, in August 2021, a robot surgeon successfully performed the first remote operation under the direction of Dr. Michael Jobst from the Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln — he managed to remove half of the patient’s colon with a single incision in the navel.

Image: Virtual Incision

The MIRA platform is a real breakthrough in general surgery and it is a great pleasure to be the first surgeon in the world to use this system. The operation went smoothly and the patient is on the mend. I am excited to be part of the first steps towards expanding access to robotic surgery, which has clear benefits for patients.

Michael A. Jobst

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