Steve Allan is one of my colleagues on the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors. In his outside life, Steve is a chartered accountant with a distinguished career in the Canadian tourism industry. He also has an admirable spirit of volunteerism that includes service with the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede and the Rotary Club of Calgary.
I was invited by Steve to speak at last week’s luncheon meeting of his Rotary club. In addition to other topics, I mentioned in my presentation how techniques developed to help astronauts live and work in space have been adapted to improve patient care on Earth. For example, MD Robotics, the company that built the robot arms for the space shuttle and the International Space Station, partnered with the University of Calgary to successfully develop a microsurgical telerobotic system called neuroArm. neuroArm incorporates the space control systems of Canadarm and is the world’s first image-guided surgical robot. It is as dexterous as a neurosurgeon’s hand but even more precise and tremor-free, allowing surgeons to perform intricate microscopic neurosurgical procedures.
There were a few minutes available at the end of my presentation to take a few questions or comments from the audience. The first person who commented was Bill Walsh, a past president of the Club. He informed me that the Rotary Club of Calgary had teamed up a few years ago with a sister club and the Calgary Flames Foundation to make a $1 million donation to spur the development of neuroArm. I was so pleased to hear this. Where else but in Calgary would you find a service club and a hockey team investing in R&D! The can-do spirit of exploration certainly permeates every corner of this unique city.
The next person to comment was Tessa Major. Tessa stated that she had actually been a patient of neuroArm. Wow! The delicate touch of the robot had successfully performed a ventriculostomy on her (a ventriculostomy is a surgical procedure that creates a hole or drain in a patient’s brain to relieve high pressure within the cerebrospinal fluid). Tessa went on to say that she was grateful to the University of Calgary, the Foothills Medical Centre and the Canadian Space Agency. The technology from the Canadarm had relieved her of the damaging effects of hydrocephalus. What an amazing story!
Since 2008, neuroArm has successfully treated dozens of other patients with hydrocephalus, brain tumours and vascular malformations. There are hundreds of other space technologies that have been spun off to benefit people on Earth.
I often speak at Rotary Club events. I enjoy being around Rotarians like Steve Allan who are committed to the betterment of their communities. They inspire me. And I am grateful to the Rotary Club of Calgary and the Calgary Flames Foundation for their extremely generous gift several years ago to the University of Calgary and the Calgary Health Region. The citizens of southern Alberta have benefited from their foresight as well as from the space heritage of neuroArm.