The future of aerospace medicine: come to the planet near you-now. Supported by Northrop Grumman

2021-11-25 06:10:54 By : Ms. Kiki Liao

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The past year has shown that medicine and medical care are not necessarily limited to doctors’ offices. Even if trends sweep the world, telemedicine and artificial intelligence technologies can help ensure that people get the care they need.

In the future, medicine may be smarter. We can check the blood for infection in the comfort of our home. We can find a faucet to turn ordinary water into a sterile intravenous infusion, instead of sending dehydrated patients to the hospital. Whenever and wherever, medical imaging tools can scan our bodies and send automatic readings to humans and artificial intelligence medical experts anywhere in the world (or multiple worlds).

This is a dream of a certain day on earth. But it has now begun in space, where aerospace medicine is laying the foundation for healthcare for hundreds of miles in the future.

Since mankind has moved rapidly toward orbit, healthcare innovation has been dripping from orbit. As part of NASA's responsibilities, the organization both funds research and shares its findings with the public. A large number of discoveries have made it possible to travel safely to and from space. In the 63 years since NASA was founded, thousands of patents have been successfully applied to life-sustaining products for patients.

In order to land on the moon in 1969, NASA invented digital image processing. The technology was later shared and integrated into many devices, including MRI machines and CT scanners. About a generation later, the Hubble Space Telescope's ability to observe fine details with high resolution spawned a company that made breast biopsy imaging equipment. Now, NASA's technology can not only observe, but also determine the possible tumor location through observation. It is also at the core of a series of programmable pacemakers, robotic surgical tools, and suture materials that can hold organs together-currently running through cables on the International Space Station (ISS).

This kind of high-end healthcare innovation can save lives, but it requires something that is difficult to obtain, or even harder to find, on the planet: hospitals. In the United States, in some rural communities, the delivery time of ambulances in hospitals can be measured in hours. In bad weather, transportation may become impossible. In developing countries and remote communities, hospital care is not an option. In the low-Earth orbit where humans have lived continuously for two decades, there has never been a hospital. Astronauts in medical distress were evacuated back to Earth.

The concept of "stability and transportation" is applicable both in space and on Earth, only when the patient can survive and the journey is short. Outside the moon, it took more than four days to be transported back to the Earth Hospital. In the high mountains of Peru and Nepal, in the winter in Antarctica, no amount of time is enough to bring the sick to a safe place. This is why providing medical care services to humans, no matter where they are, is the goal of space medicine.

Where there is a hospital in the solar system, the question becomes-is it necessary? In December 2020, a device flew to the International Space Station to test our ability to diagnose diseases remotely. The HomeCue system is manufactured by a Swedish company and aims to help identify diseases by counting a variety of white blood cells-from neutrophils and lymphocytes, as the size and number of acute infections increase, to eosinophils and basophils Sex granulocytes, they are against allergens and parasites. But can such a system work in space, where every drop of blood drawn there tries to float away?

As of March 2021, HomeCue is still on track. The astronauts are fixed to the workstation by a foothold and use the system in an expandable small plastic tent to prevent blood from leaking to other parts of the space station, while preventing the space station-which has an interesting and somewhat unique microbial community-close to the collection area.

If it proves to be successful, a similar system can be deployed anywhere on the planet-farms, cliffside villages and even home countertops. But if problems are detected in these harsh and remote environments, what will be the next step?

In space-and many other hard-to-reach places-it may be the easiest to get autonomous support. In fact, Autonomous Medical Operations (AMO) has been in space and on Earth for decades. For example, in 1999, under the guidance of an expert in Indianapolis, Dr. Jerri FitzGerald diagnosed cancer and started treating himself during his deployment in Antarctica.

The autonomous medical system being developed is intended to supplement crew training. Before launch, all astronauts received basic and even some advanced medical skills training, such as temperature measurement, anesthesia, tooth extraction and wound suture. Given their continuous contact with the ground, astronauts on the International Space Station will call the Mission Control Center to seek guidance on handling difficult medical issues. However, the time it takes to send a message in one way increases by more than ten minutes in each way. In the future, when astronauts go to Mars one day, astronauts will need closer consultation.

The idea behind AMO is that it can guide local users on the path of action that needs to be taken as soon as possible: check blood pressure, put a blood sample into HomeCue, use ultrasound to view the appendix, etc. Hopefully, when the image is ready for review, information from an expert somewhere on the planet will reach a remote area of ​​the patient, whether in the middle of the ocean or in the deep space.

For half a century, aerospace medicine has been deeply involved in the development of remote diagnosis methods for non-experts using ultrasound and other tools. At the end of last year, commercial off-the-shelf ultrasound scanners were used remotely in combination with terrestrial telemedicine and AMO. The goal is to establish a medical consultant, also known as a medical decision support system. Such tools will enable astronauts and doctors on Earth to bypass delays caused by distance or time, and diagnose and treat emergencies on the spot.

The good news is that medical decision support systems may soon make treatment recommendations. The bad news is that treatment usually requires a lot of things. After the hurricane destroyed part of the supply chain or the epidemic slowed delivery, even large hospitals ran out of basic supplies such as physiological saline. However, healthcare innovations in the past half-century have made tremendous progress in the recovery and recovery of water from food, urine, and even sweat. Now, aerospace medicine is taking this recycling process one step further: converting substances in the blood into substances that can be directly returned to the blood.

Enter IVGEN, an intravenous infusion device. This is a small and light portable water purification system that can easily fly to the International Space Station. IVGEN not only makes medical-grade water from the recovered liquid, but also can add the correct proportion of salt so that the salt can be re-injected into the patient who needs fluid resuscitation. Ten years after the technology first flew into space, IVGEN was stored on a shelf for two years. Then they turned it back on-just to see if it could work on a mission to Mars or after collecting dust in a remote health clinic. It did. Now, the technology is being further automated to see if we can use the system, its collectors, purifiers, mixers and bags to directly infuse patients, thereby freeing up care time and more medical resources.

63 years of manned space flight has created many trickle technologies. Most of them are to allow explorers to survive in an environment close to vacuum, in microgravity and high radiation. All of these are built to take up minimal mass and volume.

One thing that astronauts lack in space is space. The number of devices that can be used by any type of device is staggeringly small-fewer devices may be used once in Blue Moon, if any. Through design or cosmic coincidence, the earth’s healthcare needs are also moving towards this trend: lighter and smaller. Personality and portability are our way forward, no matter where we go. In some respects, health care on Earth is catching up with the development direction of aerospace medicine. Together we become better, faster, travel farther and safer.

Interested in all things outer space and exploration? So are we. Check out Northrop Grumman's open positions and consider joining our team.

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