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Canadian space technology helps fight breast cancer on Earth


Uploaded on October 30, 2018


Canadian space technology helps fight breast cancer on Earth

2018-10-30 - The technology behind Canadian space robots Canadarm2 and Dextre is finding its way back to Earth through IGAR, the Image-Guided Autonomous Robot, developed by the Centre for Surgical Invention & Innovation (CSII) in collaboration with MDA, a business unit of Maxar.

Learn how the robot can perform biopsy procedures, vital to the detection and treatment of breast cancer, under MRI guidance. IGAR is transforming access to medical care on Earth – with the help of Canadian expertise developed for the Canadian robots on the International Space Station. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)


Tim Fielding: Space represents a fairly harsh environment. Any piece of equipment that's exposed to it over a long period of time will require maintenance.

Ken Podwalski: So every time we have to do maintenance on the outside of the Space Station, that means a crew member has to suit up and go outside. That introduces that crew member to risk, and puts that person in harm's way. The other issue is that now they're spending the time doing the maintenance work and they're not doing the science which is really what their purpose is. So with the maintenance challenges that we're going to have with the International Space Station what we found ourselves was Canada being in the position to provide a solution to that problem, and Dextre was going to be that solution.

Tim Fielding: Dextre is a two-armed robotic manipulator system capable of performing fine motion tasks to replace what an astronaut would need to do on the exterior part of the Space Station.

Ken Podwalski: Dextre is essentially a handyman. It operates on the outside of the International Space Station. It allows us to do maintenance operations. One of the advantages with Dextre is that we're able to control it from the ground.

Tim Fielding: And so the ground crew could actually operate these robotic systems and free the astronaut up from that task as well.

Ken Podwalski: So now the Dextre is on line on the Space Station and operating on a regular basis, what we've got is we've got a crew who's spending more time doing science, and this is important because this was really the whole idea of building the International Space Station was to be able to do science in Low-Earth Orbit.

Dr. Mehran Anvari: Unfortunately, only about 40% of women who should be getting annual MRI as part of a screening, undergo MR screening. Part of the reason why women were are not undertaking MRI screening was because of lack of access to the best radiologist locally.

Dr. Nathalie Duchesne: Some women have to try very long distances, like 7 or 8 hours in a car, in snowstorms during the winter, sometimes risking their lives just to get the MRI-guided breast biopsies.

Dr. Mehran Anvari: When we started to do the research with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA on the whole remote telesurgery, we started to get involved with MDA. MDA is a Canadian company which has been involved in manufacture of all the robotic systems which is currently used on the Space Station.

Tim Fielding: So we develop a system called IGAR. Which stands for Image Guided Automated Robot.

Dr. Nathalie Duchesne: IGAR is a tele-operated robot that performs breast biopsies under MRI guidance.

Dr. Mehran Anvari: One of the capabilities IGAR is to be controlled by radiologists from any distance and that allows basically a radiologist to supervise MR breast biopsy on a patient who may be hundreds of kilometers or thousands of kilometers away from them. It means that the patient can undergo their breast biopsy in their own local hospital without having the need to travel to another city or another hospital in order to get access to the expertise.

Dr. Nathalie Duchesne: And the results are very, very encouraging. So we've demonstrated that IGAR is safe. Extremely accurate, as accurate as a human.

Dr. Mehran Anvari: And this will allow us to hopefully increase the number of people undergoing screening close to a hundred percent where it should be. IGAR is built on many of the know-how which was developed for the space program as well as the software which is also used to control the robotics of the Space Station.

Tim Reedman: We can actually see some of these technologies we worked with for a long time becoming available. You know we have a lot of insight on how to apply them. Not just in medicine but in a number of other fields which is what we're doing. So without the space station, would any of that have happened? No, not really. Not in that way, anyway.


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