Health technology for astronauts has earthly potential

Two new healthcare technologies developed with astronauts in mind also show promise as real-world applications. The first, a biocapsule developed by NASA scientist David Loftus, has the ability both to diagnose and treat astronauts instantaneously. The second, an augmented reality unit developed by the European Space Agency, offers 3D guidance for diagnosing problems or performing do-it-yourself operations using a head-mounted display.

The biocapsule, Gizmodo reported, is composed of carbon nanotubes, and was initially developed for treating radiation effects on astronauts. Future treatment capsules are expected to have the ability not only to treat heat, exhaustion and sleep deprivation, but eventually diabetes and cancer, as well.

According to Loftus, for patients who need insulin, a biocapsule would house animal-based pancreatic islet cells or manufactured cells with the ability to take glucose readings and distribute insulin. Singular capsules could contain between one million and 10 million cells, he said.

"Patients with low-insulin requirements might benefit from implantation of a single capsule ... patients with higher insulin requirements might require implantation of more than one capsule," Loftus added.

With regard to cancer treatment, a biocapsule could be implanted directly into a tumor bed to deliver high doses of chemotherapy right to the area where it is needed, according to the article.

The augmented reality unit, meanwhile--known as the Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System (CADMASS)--currently focuses on exams using ultrasound because, as ESA said, "it is a versatile and effective medical diagnostic tool ... already available on the International Space Station." Essentially, an ultrasound device would be linked with the system, "registering" a patient's body to a camera connected to a 3D visor that would worn by a second person charged with providing care. The visor would display "reality cue cards" to guide the wearer in providing treatment.

A prototype of the device has successfully been tested at Saint-Pierre University Hospital in Brussels, Belgium. Biomedical engineer Arnaud Runge, the lead on the project, ultimately believes the system could be used for telehealth purposes, or as a tool for emergency responders.

"It would be interesting to perform more testing in remote locations, in the developing world and potentially in the Concordia Antarctic base," Runge says. "Eventually, it could be used in space."

To learn more:
- read the Gizmodo story
- here's the ESA announcement