The NASA John Glenn Research Center’s Human Research Program (HRP) is working to find solutions to critical problems that place human exploration missions and crews at risk when significant changes can take place in the human body in a low gravity environment. Glenn’s HRP has strong relevance and applicability to healthcare needs on Earth with significant potential for commercialization of products and the development of new companies.
One of the pressing problems affecting crews in space is bone atrophy. The current bone standards based upon osteoporosis diagnostic guidelines are not acceptable for assessing skeletal integrity in the astronaut following prolonged spaceflight exposure.
There is increased fracture risk induced by spaceflight caused by loss of bone mass and as a result, there can be changes in hip bone structure. The probability exists that the bones will be overloaded while working and performing tasks in an unknown risk environment. Therefore more research is ongoing to understand spaceflight effects on the bone particularly of the hip, wrist, and spine to assess fracture risk particularly during missions to Mars.
Radiation and weightlessness can increase an astronaut’s risk of developing health problems such as bone and muscle loss, cataracts, renal stones, vertigo, cancer, and more. An effort is underway at University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University for collaboration in radial modeling and dosimetry to address the negative effects of radiation and other spaceflight stresses.
In other areas, a new commercial product called the vMetrics system was recently announced by ZIN Medical Inc., a company jointly owned by ZIN Medical and the Cleveland Clinic. The system provides real-time monitoring of patients through a compact wireless device and can be used in space, military, and commercial applications.
The technology was developed under a SBIR project managed by the Glenn Research Center that included funding from the John Glenn Biomedical Engineering Consortium. The first commercial application is supporting the atrial fibrillation market.
An initiative has been launched under the Ohio Technology Cluster Commercialization Program through the Glenn Alliance for Technology Exchange team. The initiative involves the application of biocompatible nanoporous filters for biomedical purposes which could help improve the standard of care for kidney disease. The filter design is based in part on work from a John Glenn Biomedical Engineering Consortium project. Additional funding was awarded under NASA’s STTR program.
Recently, an assessment was completed that identified projects from Glenn’s Human Research Program with applicability to healthcare on Earth with the potential for commercialization. For example, Project Rescue is a method and system for remotely monitoring in real-time, via a web interface, vital statistics of patients without constraining their movement.
Other projects include the development of a blood glucose monitor able to obtain non-invasive measurements for blood-glucose levels, a cataract and ocular sensor able to determine the physical characteristics of the lens, and other ocular tissue.
In addition, a Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA) system was developed that can measure oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production to quantify the level of exercise and state of fitness.