A BOURNEMOUTH University professor is developing robots capable of performing hip replacements in space.

Professor Robert Middleton is planning to pitch the designs to Mission Mars One.

Speaking ahead of a lecture tomorrow evening on Performing Hip Replacements in Space, he said: “This is a problem that needs solving as the Mars One mission to establish a permanent colony has started training its astronauts. The trip to Mars is a one way ticket and the astronauts won’t be returning to earth.

“As hip replacement is the commonest operation performed on earth it is the most likely one that will need to be performed on Mars.”

The professor heads up Bournemouth University’s Orthopaedic Research Institute (BUORI), which boasts state-of-the-art technology which uses 3D printing to create a personalised model of a patient’s hip.

Professor Middleton, who is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and director of trauma at Poole Hospital with more than 20 years experience in the development of robotic surgery, explained: “We are two thirds of the way here at Bournemouth University. You could come in today, we could scan your hip and we can design a custom hip then we can send that information to anywhere in the world or in space and with a 3D printer you can print a Titanium hip. The final piece of that puzzle is performing the surgery and as I don’t fancy myself going up to Mars for life, we’re developing robots to be able to do that.

“We are expecting our first new robot in the next year and then doing a research project to design that to be able to perform a hip replacement under our control back here at Bournemouth University.

“For those of us on earth, there are advantages. If we can get a robot to perfectly position a hip replacement better than say an expert surgeon like myself, we should be able to improve function and longevity.

“I think we are going to see more changes in the next 10 years than in the last 100. I think robots will become nanorobots and these are robots the size of a full stop that will be able to inject into people’s joints, to reshape and repair and relieve pain.

“I think this is just the first step of some huge changes we are going to see in the next generation of surgeons, who probably won’t be in the operating theatre but will be sitting at computer banks directing these robots.”

BUORI is already a world leader in the use of virtual reality technology in training and is changing the way orthopaedic surgeons across the UK train and prepare for operations as they are able to practice anywhere before even reaching the operating theatre.

Professor Middleton said: “As a society, we’re changing – people are living much longer, but often this means living with long-term medical conditions such as osteoarthritis,” explains Professor Middleton, “8.75 million people in the UK alone have sought treatment for this condition. As researchers, we want to improve the treatment, surgery and support they receive and ultimately create a future where no-one need suffer from arthritis.

“Over the last few years, there have been dramatic advances in technology which are helping to completely change the way we train our surgeons. Virtual reality training simulators can replicate almost every aspect of surgery, giving our surgeons the opportunity to practice meticulously before they even reach the operating theatre.”

Thanks to investment from Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (DLEP), BUORI has invested in a knee replacement simulator, a hip arthroscopy training simulator and Gait lab, which allows medics to monitor patients after surgery.