Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monitoring System Almost Here

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) is funding the development of a sensor and portable monitor for astronauts to use in space. The futuristic system dubbed the “Venus” prototype was developed by Dr. Babs Soller and her colleagues at NSBRI. The prototype is a noninvasive monitoring system to help NASA astronauts know how much oxygen they are using up in space.

The Venus prototype is a needle-free system that uses light to measure tissue oxygen and pH. Consisting of a sensor that can be worn on the thigh and a wearable monitor, the medical technology will soon be a real-time alternative to the painful use of needles to draw blood and the need to use cumbersome equipment to determine metabolic rate. The prototype has the capability to measure blood and tissue chemistry, metabolic rate, and other parameters.

The device is placed directly on the skin where the four-inch by two-inch sensor uses near infrared light to take the measurements. Blood in tiny blood vessels absorbs some of the light, but the rest is reflected back to the sensor. The monitor is able to analyze the reflected light to determine metabolic rate, along with tissue oxygen, and pH.

“Tissue and bold chemistry measurements can be used in medical care to assess patients with traumatic injuries and those at risk for cardiovascular collapse”, said Dr. Soller, who leads the NSBRI Smart Medical Systems and Technology team.

The futuristic technology can also be used in emergency ambulances and on the battlefield. Eventually, the researchers on the project expect first-responders to use these devices to determine the severity of a person’s injury and the system will enable doctors to more efficiently monitor pediatric and intensive care patients. Athletes and physical therapy patients will also gain from the technology’s ability to help determine the level of activity or exercise that is needed for their training or physical therapy programs.

Most of the system’s development has occurred at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where Dr. Soller is a professor of anesthesiology. She has also worked closely with researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to develop applications for the Venus system. Currently, Dr. Soller and her collaborators are working to prepare the system for integration into spacesuits by reducing the size of the system, increasing the accuracy in measuring metabolic rate, and making it possible for Venus to run on batteries.

NSBRI works with NASA to find solutions to help health related problems and the physical and psychological challenges astronauts face on long duration missions. While solving space health issues, the Institute is transferring these solutions to patients suffering from osteoporosis, muscle wasting, shift-related sleep disorders, balance disorders, and cardiovascular system problems.

For more information, go to or call (713) 798-7412.