Robots would perform surgery on patients in space

Small robots designed by University of Nebraska researchers may allow doctors on Earth to help perform surgery on patients in space.

The tiny, wheeled robots, which are about 3 inches tall and as wide as a lipstick case, can be slipped into small incisions and computer-controlled by surgeons in different locations.

Some robots are equipped with cameras and lights and can send back images to surgeons. Others have surgical tools attached that can be controlled remotely.

"We think this is going to replace open surgery," Dr. Dmitry Oleynikov said at news conference. Oleynikov is a specialist in minimally invasive and computer-assisted surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Officials hope that next spring, NASA will teach astronauts to use the robots so that surgeries could one day be performed in space. Delays in communication because of the distance to space would mean surgeons on earth would have tell astronauts what commands to give the robots.

However on earth, the surgeons can control the robots themselves from other locations.

A robot capable of doing biopsies is in the works and another is being designed that can be inserted into a person's stomach via the esophagus.

The robots themselves currently cost about $200 each, the AP reports.