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Microgravity Effects on Fine Motor Skills: Tying Surgical Knots During Parabolic Flight

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Rafiq A, Hummel R, Lavrentyev V, Derry W, Williams D, Merrell RC. Microgravity effects on fine motor skills: tying surgical knots during parabolic flight. Aviat Space Environ Med 2006; 77:852–856.

Introduction: The health provider on a space exploration mission cannot evacuate a patient to Earth. Contingency plans for medical intervention must be designed for autonomy. This study measured the effect of microgravity on performance of fine motor skills such as basic surgical tasks. Methods: Eight subjects, six with medical and two with non-medical backgrounds, were evaluated during parabolic microgravity flights aboard NASA’s KC-135. We evaluated their skill in tying surgical knots on simulated skin made of silicone using standard techniques for minimally invasive surgery. LabView┬« software was developed to archive forces applied to the laparoscopic tool handles during knot-tying. Studies were controlled for medication (ScopeDex) and the aircraft environment. Results: All participants completed the tests successfully. The data indicated that increased force was applied to the instruments and knot quality decreased during flight compared with ground control sessions. Conclusion: Specific metrics of surgical task performance are essential in developing education modules for providers of medical care during exploration-class missions.
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Keywords: Laparoscopic surgical simulation; laparoscopic surgery; medical care; surgery in space; training

Document Type: Short Communication

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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