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French Doctors to Perform Zero-Gravity Surgery 222

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the like-52-card-pickup-only-more-fun dept.
STFS writes "NewScientistSpace has a story about a team of French doctors who will attempt the worlds first zero-gravity operation on a human aboard an Airbus A300 dubbed "Zero-G". The patient, according to forbes.com, was chosen because of his experience with 'dramatic gravitational shifts' as an avid bungee-jumper. The operation will serve as a test for performing surgery in space."
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French Doctors to Perform Zero-Gravity Surgery

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  • by patio11 (857072) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:30PM (#16194217)
    ... I predict some serious mishaps for all involved. The Vomit Comet is a NASA plane which they use to simulate 0G conditions by the simple expedient of taking the plane up really high and then flying it towards the ground, then pulling up and repeating. As I recall the cycle between weightless and "really freaking heavy" takes about 60 seconds, with about half of that time being weightless. Any more and the plane ends up as NASA's 453rd "premature interface of craft and planet". So the surgery would be stopping and starting constantly, and as most surgeries aren't five-minute affairs I can imagine that would be a little irksome.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aussie_a (778472)
      I've seen footage of people on the Vomit Comet, and for something that's supposedly weightless, it's amazing how much time they spent on the floor of the plane, or drifting towards it. It wasn't really weightless so much as really-really-light.
      • by Mini-Geek (915324) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:13PM (#16194547) Homepage
        It wasn't really weightless so much as really-really-light.
        Even in space, it is not actually 'weightless', there is still the gravity that holds the celestial bodies in orbit. While the plane may make it more like .01 G instead of .000001 G, it's not as if it's entirely a different thing from being in space (microgravity is the term).
        • by buswolley (591500) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:27PM (#16194617) Journal
          You never know...If they fall as fast as did the Maginot Line..

          • WARNING (Score:5, Funny)

            by Ruff_ilb (769396) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:43PM (#16194707) Homepage
            Warning. Your joke has been deemed too sophisticated/intelligent for /. Given your high karma, would you like to:

            1) Insert a less complicated insult about the French, perhaps belittling their manliness?
            2) Boringly clarify your remark with a link to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maginot_Line)?
            3) EXCITINGLY clarify your remark with a link to Uncyclopedia (http://www.uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Maginot_Line)?
            4) Ignore?
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by buswolley (591500)
              Well, I guess they think I am a troll...The question is... do they think I am a Nazi Troll? I am surely not. But I do think that the French made a huge military mistake in defense strategy against the German threat.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Esion Modnar (632431)
              Warning. Your joke has been deemed too sophisticated/intelligent for /.

              Indeed. Most people here can't spell Manigot.

          • WWII Humor, gotta love it :)
          • by buswolley (591500)
            This is like a Erench Vs Emerican Competition..My score.. goes up and down up and down as American and French moderators try to outbid each other. Ha hah..The French are losing.
        • by pclminion (145572)

          Even in space, it is not actually 'weightless', there is still the gravity that holds the celestial bodies in orbit. While the plane may make it more like .01 G instead of .000001 G, it's not as if it's entirely a different thing from being in space (microgravity is the term).

          It's not the presence of gravity that matters, it's freefall that matters. When a body is falling freely under only the influence of gravity, it sees no gravitational force (period!) in its own reference frame. Even if the gravitat

      • by Ucklak (755284)
        Coming from someone who used to skydive on a regular basis, we used to do vomit comets on some trips to altitude. It depended on the pilot. We have about 2-5 seconds of weightlessness on tape and it was pretty cool.
    • by Deadstick (535032) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:40PM (#16194307)
      In the days before general anesthesia, surgeons used to pride themselves on their ability to take out an appendix or a bladder stone in 15-30 seconds...

      rj
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dan Guisinger (15506)
        Did they also pride themselves on the patients survival rate?

        • Did they also pride themselves on the patients survival rate?

          Let's see...points for speed...points for style...nope, nothing here about survivability. Of course if the patient lives through the end of the surgery, and dies two days later on the ward, his death is obviously the nurses' fault. He was alive until the nurses got ahold of him.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:19PM (#16194579)
        I'm not sure if I could even tell the difference between a appendix or a bladder stone in 15-30 seconds....woops accidently took out your liver. Not important though, you have two of them.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by benplaut (993145)
          well.. maybe you have two of them, but the rest of us aren't as lucky!
        • I'm not sure if I could even tell the difference between a appendix or a bladder stone in 15-30 seconds....woops accidently took out your liver. Not important though, you have two of them.

          Don't we all keep a few dozens of spare organs in the freezer?

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        We replaced your heart with a baked potatoe. You have three seconds to live.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:42PM (#16194319)
      Since this is /. after all, reading the linked artcile is strictly optional, of course
      From the article
      1) It is ESA and not NASA
      2) They are doing the operation in 20 second increments
      3) There will be 30 such spots when the actual operation is done
      4) Whole flight will be 3 hours
    • by nizo (81281) *
      Actually I think this opens up a whole new field and entertainment sector at the same time: extreme speed surgery. The cost of the surgery (and later followup surgery, to fix things, remove stuff left inside, etc) can be paid for by tv advertisements if you turn this into a new reality show.
  • by Karloskar (980435) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:31PM (#16194231)
    I bungy-jumped a couple of weeks ago and can't remember experiencing any dramatic changes in gravity. It was pulling me towards the ground for the entire jump.
    • I know this was a sarcastic post most likely, but while you are free falling, you are physically experiencing zero gravity.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Karloskar (980435)
        I know this was a sarcastic post most likely, but while you are free falling, you are physically experiencing zero gravity.

        No. When you are free-falling, you are experiencing acceleration due to gravity of 9.81(ish*) m/s^2. What isn't experienced is the upwards force keeping you stationary on the ground. There's a (massive) difference.
        • by pembo13 (770295)
          Glad to see someone else knows the facts.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by pudro (983817)
          Don't get me wrong, I get more ticked off than anyone I know when I hear someone say that there is no gravity on the space station or something like that. But the fact of the matter is that and object in free-fall is experiencing zero gravity. Don't let your knowledge of gravity get in the way of knowledge of relativity just to post some semantic crap.

          It's like saying there actually isn't such a thing as centrifugal force. You may be technically right in that it is a result of inertia and that there is no
          • by Tim C (15259)
            Don't let your knowledge of gravity get in the way of knowledge of relativity just to post some semantic crap.

            It's not semantic crap though. The GP seemed to be saying that while you fall, you are in zero gravity, which is not the case. This is due to the context in which the comment was made, the OP saying that gravity is constant the whole time.

            Had he said something like "well, that's true, but it *feels* like it isn't" we wouldn't be having this pointless discussion. Some of us are physics nerds at heart
        • by pclminion (145572)

          No. When you are free-falling, you are experiencing acceleration due to gravity of 9.81(ish*) m/s^2. What isn't experienced is the upwards force keeping you stationary on the ground. There's a (massive) difference.

          Wrong. Freefall is identical to zero gravity. Einstein says so. [wikipedia.org]
  • by aussie_a (778472) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:32PM (#16194239) Journal
    I sure hope it isn't a vasectomy.
    • by gardyloo (512791) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:34PM (#16194257)
      I sure hope it isn't a vasectomy.

            Oh, it's not. At first.
    • 22 seconds, then you have to stop, sets serious limits to what you can really do. Don't want a weightless bleeder squirting weightless blood all over the place.

      Actually a vasectomy wouldn't be a bad choice.

    • I've had that done. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday September 25, 2006 @11:05PM (#16194875) Journal
      Sounds like removal of a "lipoma". (I've had a few of those removed.)

      Think of it as "cancer of the fat" - except benign. You get stiff fatty lumps (maybe one, maybe a scattering, maybe like a bunch of grapes). They're like regular fat with some kind of other tissue in them that makes them hard.

      It's really annoying if it's above a muscle or some other easily hurt tissue: It's like a rock embedded in the fat that is SUPPOSED to be cushioning the tissue, so lying on it bruises the tissue instead.

      They never go malignant so doctors will leave them in unless they're bruising something underneath or causing a disfiguring bump. They're near the surface of the skin so they're easy to cut out - usually by a dermatologist.

      Sounds like the perfect test operation. Not a big deal if they don't get it all, near the surface so you don't have to cut through vital stuff or clamp stuff out of the way to get to it, etc. Easy to tell how well the op went. Much less opportunity for screwups than just about any other surgery.
      • by spineboy (22918) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @02:03AM (#16195999) Journal
        A lipoma is benign, however they can undergo malignant transformation - just like any tissue in the body. Generally the small (5 cm and deep to the fascia ( a gristly layer over the muscle) tend to malignantly transform and should be excised.

        Dermatologist generally don't do cancer operations - they take out skin lesions a bit at a time untill they hit healthy tissue. If something is deep to the skin - i.e. a lipoma, it should be removed by a surgeon (general, or orthopaedic) that specialises in oncology. The only real way to determine if they are benign is to examine it pathologically. Generally the benign ones tend to be soft, ,the bad ones tend to be firmer and look funny on MRI.
        • Thanks for that. (It's 'way different from what I was told.)
  • by joe_bruin (266648) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:33PM (#16194255) Homepage Journal
    If this plane is the same as what we Americans call the Vomit Comet [wikipedia.org], this surgery is soon to be followed by the first malpractice lawsuit in zero-gravity.
  • Definitely tiring... (Score:5, Informative)

    by RuBLed (995686) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:37PM (#16194275)
    From the TFA: "The European space plane, a specially-adapted Airbus A300 operated out of Bordeaux, flies in a series of roller-coaster like parabolas, creating between 20 and 22 seconds of weightlessness at the top of the curve, a process repeated around 30 times for a 3-hour flight.

    As well as the challenge of working in zero gravity, the surgical team will have to halt their work each time the plane pulls out and gravity resumes."


    22 seconds multiplied by 30 is 660 seconds, that is only 11 minutes of surgery for 3 hours. I wonder if that tumor could be removed during this 3 hour session.

    (I'm getting dizzy already, I'm not a rollercoaster type of person)
  • Animals first? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by racecarj (703239) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:40PM (#16194311)
    I am a doctor, and this is the worst type of medicine: publicity medicine. The goal is to get on the news rather than patient care. If these guys really wanted to experiment (and it is an experiment) with low-gravity surgery they would be doing it on animals long before human trials. With surgery, there are so many complications that cannot be predicted. Who knows how low-gravity affects clotting? Perhaps this guy will have a pulmonary embolus and die... there are a million what if's here that be accounted for and it's irresponsible at the least.
    • Re:Animals first? (Score:5, Informative)

      by STFS (671004) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:50PM (#16194383) Homepage
      From the article:

      "Martin's team laid the groundwork for Wednesday's operation in October 2003, with an operation on a 0.5 millimetre-wide (.01 inch) rat tail's artery."

    • Yeah, who would do such a reckless thing? It's like bungee jumping for christ's sake!
    • Re:Animals first? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @12:33AM (#16195417) Homepage
      If these guys really wanted to experiment (and it is an experiment) with low-gravity surgery they would be doing it on animals long before human trials.

      It has been done on animals. I worked with a NASA surgical research group for years and one of the many projects we did was surgical simulation (both computer with haptic feedback and with traditional box simulators) in microgravity. Other groups did surgical procedures on animals in microgravity. We've flown every possible piece of the puzzle, many times. This is the logical next step, and yes it is experimental, but that's what researchers do.

      There are many things that could go wrong, and no doubt they'll tell the pilot to level the plane if that happens. Being in control of the gravity makes it a lot safer than trying it for the first time in an emergency aboard the space station. Sooner or later this has to be done -- I admit when I first heard this story on the news, I was hoping it was my old group doing it.
    • by Afty0r (263037)
      Who knows how low-gravity affects clotting?
      From TFA:
      The operation will serve as a test for performing surgery in space.
      I think the "who knows" questions are the ENTIRE reason they are doing this.

      If your concerns for the patient are so strong, did you not consider they can just ask the pilot to level the plane out, and carry out surgery as normal - it would take all of ten seconds or so.
  • Good Grief! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Etherwalk (681268) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:52PM (#16194403)
    And we wonder why medical costs are getting so out of hand. =)
    • I think we can recoup these costs by strapping a couple of bombs onto the plane and flying it over enemy territory. ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by soft_guy (534437)
        I think we can recoup these costs by strapping a couple of bombs onto the plane and flying it over enemy territory

        We get paid for bombing people? That would explain a lot about US foreign policy.
  • by bronzey214 (997574) <jason.rippel@nosPaM.gmail.com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:57PM (#16194433) Journal
    Good news Mr. Brown, we removed the tumor! Followed by, "We're going to have to put you under again because your liver floated away."
  • Nurse, help! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Acidictadpole (813697) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:08PM (#16194523)
    I wonder what they will do for the Zero-G counterpart to suction, usually on Earth, gravity holds the blood at the base of the operating platform (usually the back) and they have a suction tube designed to remove the blood that gets in the way.. In Zero-G however, the blood may be flying all around the cabin, how would they contain the blood flying around?
    • Re:Nurse, help! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by motorbikematt (825008) <motorbikematt@gm a i l.com> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @12:11AM (#16195319) Homepage Journal

      Probably constant dabbing with sponges or gauze would be useful in stopping the blood from flying away...but keep in mind...the surface tension of blood will keep it sticky to the site of incision, the instruments, and to their gloves. That is of course assuming they don't cut a high pressure spurting artery...then all bets are off. Point is, I don't think this minor surgery will dig that deep.

      Having spent a lot of time in microgravity, my main concern would be in keeping the area sterile. Dust, hair, and everything else floats around a lot better in microgravity...and keeping particulate matter out of the incision site is going to be a task. It's hard enough to keep the planes clean of the big dirt from your shoes...it doesn't take much to spread microscopic contaminants

      • If you were to blow sterile air (or argon or whatever) onto the area and remove the air through filters -- essentially establish something like a laminar flow fume hood across the site of operation -- you'd help reduce risk of contamination.
  • I wonder? (Score:5, Funny)

    by DuranDuran (252246) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:13PM (#16194551)
    Did anybody else immediately think of that Zero G porn film from a few years ago?

    Like I did?

    I'll get my coat.
  • ISS (Score:2, Interesting)

    As others have pointed out, performing surgery 30 seconds at a time doesn't make sense and doesn't reflect the reality of being in micro-gravity during the whole operation. Why don't they do this kind of experiments on the ISS ? It was supposed to be a micro-gravity science laboratory. (Or was it a scheme to maintain 15'000 jobs at NASA ? I don't remember).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)
      As others have pointed out, performing surgery 30 seconds at a time doesn't make sense and doesn't reflect the reality of being in micro-gravity during the whole operation. Why don't they do this kind of experiments on the ISS ?
      Because if something unexpectedly goes wrong in surgery on the ISS, you can't restore gravity and/or return to earth in any reasonable period of time.
    • Re:ISS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tftp (111690) on Monday September 25, 2006 @11:38PM (#16195103) Homepage
      They don't do it on ISS likely because it makes no sense. They do other medical experiments there, less risky and not so newsworthy - but probably more valuable. Like surgery on rats, for example (I remember something like that being announced some time ago.)

      TFA mentions an accident during a low spaceflight. Well, read Baxter's "Titan" for example. But if you are not suicidal enough for that, it might be enough to note that all space crews are trained in medicine; often one crewmember is a doctor, and everyone else is good enough to help.

      Another issue is that you can't compare 30-second drops and 9-minute climbs, with gravity swinging from 0 to 2G, and a quiet, stable zero gravity of a spacecraft. Who can do *anything* well in a Vomit Comet? This stunt has no value.

      • by NMerriam (15122)
        Who can do *anything* well in a Vomit Comet? This stunt has no value.

        We have run many surgical simulation missions onboard the KC-135, and there's plenty of research value. What happens on the ISS is very conservative and small scale, because it's so darn expensive to fly a pound of material up there.

        You just don't do anything during the 2g period (which only lasts about 45 seconds). You're right, it isn't exactly the same as space, but it's also not as dangerous or as expensive. We try things out first on
    • by Zerbey (15536) *
      Are there any astronauts out there who are also certified surgeons? I'm sure there's been one but they're probably not all that common. I think I read somewhere that all astronauts are required to become paramedics (which makes good sense) so they would at least have SOME medical training, but that doesn't equate to poking around inside someone's body. Besides, if something goes horribly wrong on the ISS the patient would be in big trouble. Better to have it in a semi-controlled environment at least.

      At
  • by Thisfox (994296) on Monday September 25, 2006 @11:02PM (#16194857)
    What will the patient be like after returning to gravity?

    I seem to remember that in the development of the X-ray a lot of people were treated for depression of the organs, or some such illness, which later turned out to be something that was caused by the machines taking the photographs, and only caused when the photographs were being taken in the first place. Peoples' organs weren't actually in the wrong place, they were being displaced by the heavy equipment, until the equipment went away again...

    I can imagine a situation where they do the operation, then land, and find that when the body of the patient settles, the stitches pull out or the organs get twisted around and he has worse problems than he would have had if they'd stayed in a relatively constant gravitational pull.

    Let alone the increases and decreases of gravity during the operation. "catch that kidney as it goes past, will you nurse? Oh, nevermind, it will change direction and return to it's rightful place in 5 more seconds..." Wow. It would be like a Monty Python sketch...
    • If kidneys are floating past in the course of a surgery to remove a fatty tumor from the forearm, then I'd guess that there is something fairly seriously wrong being done. Yeah, it would be prettty crazy to do surgery affecting major internal organs in this kind of experiment, but that's not what they are trying here.
    • by smoker2 (750216)

      I seem to remember that in the development of the X-ray a lot of people were treated for depression of the organs, or some such illness, which later turned out to be something that was caused by the machines taking the photographs, and only caused when the photographs were being taken in the first place. Peoples' organs weren't actually in the wrong place, they were being displaced by the heavy equipment, until the equipment went away again...

      Actually, it wasn't the machines causing it. It was because the

  • by Bones3D_mac (324952) on Monday September 25, 2006 @11:04PM (#16194871)
    Sure, keeping things close to the earth surface might allow for an easy abort in case of some catastrophic failure, but with the trade-off being that you'll have sharp objects in (and near) your body at constantly changing vectors and accelerations, it hardly seems worth the risk.

    While I'm sure they have a fancy plan for blood containment (small incisions and tubes for tool insertion), a slip-up at the wrong time could create some interesting situations (like a stream of small, bloody spheres all over the place). Another issue are the various other fluids to contend with, such as stomach acid, anal leakage and urine. Unless they plan to completely block off every hole on the guy (catheter, stomach pump, intibation tubes, ass plug/vacuum, etc...), this could get messy pretty quick.

    Aside from that, what ever became of ideas like one of those large rotating room to create pseudo-gravity using constant angular velocity?
    • Aside from that, what ever became of ideas like one of those large rotating room to create pseudo-gravity using constant angular velocity?
      They have to really fricking big (or at least on the end of a really big arm) otherwise, the "tidal" forces from different perceived gravity on different parts of your body could cause problems.
      • Define "really fricking big," please - because I don't see it as being a real problem. Sure, if you're trying to simulate a full g, it would have to be pretty sizable, but that isn't really necessary. Something like this, you could probably get by with .1 g. Possbily even less - all you really need is there to be some kind of "down," (aside from the enemy's gate), such that you don't have to completely retrain your reflexes and relearn your skills for an environment which doesn't have one.

        I'd think .98m/s w
        • Define "really fricking big," please - because I don't see it as being a real problem.

          Okay, I remembered that from way back, and on further checking there are a couple of separate related problem: tidal forces are one, and the other are coriolis forces, which are a lot easier to find numbers for the levels which cause concern. For the latter, to avoid dizzyness, nausea, and disorientation, the spin has to be lower than about 2 rpm (I can't find any numbers for what levels of tidal force are a concern, thou

    • by NMerriam (15122)
      fluids to contend with, such as stomach acid, anal leakage and urine.

      LOL, I don't think this is the kind of flight you're thinking of :P

      But seriously, this is not the first time any of these problems have been dealt with in microgravity. We've flown sutures and needles and liquids and all this other stuff before. The gound crew would not be taking these guys up if they couldn't explin what mechanisms were in place to prevent it all from getting out. I can't really tell from the stories circulating now, but
    • Aside from that, what ever became of ideas like one of those large rotating room to create pseudo-gravity using constant angular velocity?

      That one is only useful to create higher gravity, not microgravity.

      Rotating wheels are useful to simulate gravity where there is none (i.e. on large space stations), but not the other way round.

  • So what? (Score:3, Funny)

    by kayditty (641006) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @12:24AM (#16195381)
    It's not like this is rocket surgery or anything.
  • Space tourism has gone too far!
  • ...who has to mop the ceiling afterward...
  • it's the sudden G-Force applied to the Dr.'s scaple at an inopportune moment.... that occurs several times an hour.
    • Oh, I don't know...sudden application of 6.67 x 10^11 Nm^2kg^-2 doesn't strike me as being all that problematic. Or even noticeable, really.
  • Er, Um, let's think a minute here. This article leaves out some very significant facts:
    • On Earth, gravity rules. And it plays a zero-sum game. Which means any time you spend at zero-G you spend a proportional amount of time 1/T at "T" G. So assuming this Euro "vomit comet" does 20 second weightless parabolas, there's immediately afterwards 20 seconds of TWO G, or fourty seconds of 1.5 G, or so on.
    • There's unlikely to ever be a need to do surgery in Earth orbit. Any reasonable orbiting craft will have
  • (RTFA)

    Can we get approval for "off-label" use?

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