A communications system arranged with
the help of NASA’s
Stennis Space Center has enabled physicians at the University of
Mississippi Medical Center (UMC)
to guide surgery performed on patients in Japan.

Interventional radiologist Dr. Patrick Sewell at UMC agreed to help
Japanese physicians who
requested his assistance in performing clinical trials of his new
image-guided interventional
surgeries. Travel to Japan, however, was time-consuming.

Sewell knew there must be a better way. He called on NASA’s Bill
Parsons, then the deputy
director of Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, and currently
director of center operations and
support at Stennis Space Center, to find a solution.

The answer to this communications challenge involves NASA-provided
and medical imaging linkups between UMC and two hospitals in Japan. At
UMC, using
teleconferencing and real-time magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans,
Dr. Sewell directs the
physicians in Japan in performing the minimally invasive surgical

Les Ridaught, a Stennis-based NASA Integrated Services Network (NISN)
customer service
representative for Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.,
coordinated the technology mission
to link UMC and the Japanese hospitals.

To accommodate the physicians’ telemedicine needs, technicians
traveled to Jackson to
assemble the system at UMC. The transmissions are fiber optic and
travel over transoceanic cables at
the speed of light. Such “terrestrial” transmission is faster than
satellite transmission, which has a
half-second delay. Along with audio transmissions, a large,
flat-screen monitor reveals the patient
and doctor in Japan to doctors at UMC. A picture-in-picture, or PIP,
displays MRI images of the

Once in place, the telemedicine system is simple to use. “It’s as easy
as picking up the
phone,” said Ridaught. “It’s a simple international phone call.”

Ridaught and a Stennis NISN technician tweaked the system for special
needs. During one of
the first operations performed using the telemedicine system, Sewell
was having trouble
communicating a particular point to the Japanese doctors, so he picked
up a piece of paper and drew
a picture to explain. The Stennis NISN technician who helped install
and maintain the system in
Jackson connected a document camera to transmit the image. The
technology was successful, and the
UMC physicians asked to have that feature installed for future

“The folks at UMC had great things to say about Les Ridaught’s
assistance,” said Parsons.

The opportunity to expand telemedicine technology may be around the
corner. UMC is
interested in participating this summer in a Milan, Italy medical
conference, and they are considering
the use of similar technology.

“This remote imaging project helps NASA learn more about these
techniques and the real
benefits of using such techniques,” said Parsons. “One area NASA has
been working to improve is
our ability to perform telemedicine. There are many areas in which
NASA human space flight and
UMC can collaborate to improve the ability of humans to live and work
in space.”

Ridaught shares Parsons’ enthusiasm for NASA’s telemedicine efforts.
“This is one of those
projects that makes it all worthwhile,” said Ridaught.