Virtual Incision robotics tested aboard ISS

Michael Dixon, PhD

Michael Dixon, PhD

Virtual Incision, a startup built on innovations developed at the University of Nebraska, recently successfully conducted tests for NASA aboard the International Space Station.

Virtual Incision is surgical robotics company that was formed in a collaboration between a former UNMC surgeon and an engineering professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The cross-campus collaboration has resulted in more 200 U.S. patents, an excess of $100 million in funding from investment and angel groups and is seeking FDA clearance for commercial use.

“Virtual Incision is the poster child for what success in commercializing academic innovations looks like,” UNeMed president and CEO Michael Dixon, PhD, said. “This journey of research and collaboration started more than two decades ago, and the team has overcome a number of hurdles. There’s going to be millions of people positively impacted by this technology, and that is the ultimate goal of university research.”

Dr. Dixon was part of the original university technology transfer team that worked with inventors Shane Farritor, PhD, and Dmitry Oleynikov, MD, to establish Virtual Incision as a startup in 2008.

“UNeMed has always been open and willing to discuss options, and that flexibility to consider options is really important,” Dr. Farritor said. “UNeMed has been easy to work with, and just a really good partner.”

Virtual Incision’s latest experiments aboard the space station tested their robot — called MIRA or Miniaturized In Vivo Robotic Assistant — as a potential surgical platform that would allow space-bound astronauts receive surgical care from earth-bound surgeons.

However, the applications of MIRA don’t need to stretch beyond Earth’s atmosphere for the impact to reverberate in the field of minimally invasive surgery.

Virtual Incision’s robots may be used to create access to certain procedures where they rarely, if ever, existed before — such as rural areas or developing nations that not only lack laparoscopic or minimally invasive surgical facilities but also the surgical expertise needed to carry out such procedures. A handheld device like MIRA changes that.

Virtual Incision’s successful clinical trials focused on bowel resections, a typically open procedure that requires months of recovery.

MIRA makes a bowel resection — a procedure where the surgeon cuts and removes a section of the colon — a laparoscopic procedure that now requires just a few weeks of recovery, along with a dramatic reduction of risk to the patient.

The NASA version of the robot, called spaceMIRA, weighs about two pounds and underwent several tests as it orbited the planet. Several surgeons on Earth remotely operated the tool and successfully performed common tasks associated with minimally invasive surgeries.

MIRA, the terrestrial version of spaceMIRA, has successfully completed its FDA Investigational Device Exemption studies, which is the final step before achieving FDA approval. If the FDA issues clearance as expected, MIRA could be available for public use before the end of the year.


  1. Marsha Morien says:

    A lesson learned to never give up. The seemingly impossible can be achieved.

  2. Valarie Warner says:

    Perseverance, a dynamic team, and a fabulous collaboration…This is a tremendous success for all parties. And congratulations on the FDA marketing approval as well!

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