NASA and Stanford to develop technologies for physiological monitoring of humans

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NASA and Stanford University are launching an exciting new joint venture to develop technologies, instruments and systems to conduct physiological monitoring of humans in support of basic and applied space biology research. Under the auspices of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., the new National Center for Space Biological Technologies (NCSBT) will focus on enhancing capabilities for medical monitoring and biological experimentation for future space exploration.

"We are extremely excited to be the host of such an important venture," said NASA Ames Center Director G. Scott Hubbard. "By combining the talent and the knowledge of NASA scientists and academic researchers, we pursue discovery, innovating new technologies that will bring real solutions for space travel as well as for improving peoples' lives on Earth," Hubbard said.

"In light of current, highly ambitious human exploration goals, there is now a greater need to advance human physiologic monitoring and to conduct efficient, relevant space biology experiments," said John Hines, Astrobionics Program Manager, "To support exploration, we must deepen our understanding of the effects of prolonged spaceflight on humans and other organisms, from the level of molecules and cells to the entire creature."

The technical mission of this NASA-funded $7.5 million endeavor is to conduct and promote basic and applied R&D for a range of biological technologies important to NASA's current and future activities. The new venture is designed to provide numerous commercial spin-off opportunities for medical and biological analytical and monitoring systems.

"Our collaboration focuses cutting-edge technology and expertise on NASA's major challenges in biological technology," said the director of the newly established center Dr. Antonio J. Ricco of Stanford University. "To develop new sensors to track astronauts' health, and new microdevices to monitor how space travel affects living organisms, we must work at the frontiers of medical diagnostics and research." 

Based at Stanford University, NCSBT will include the university's faculty, staff and students working in interdisciplinary teams. In the future, NCSBT activities will also take place in NASA Research Park, a world-class R&D campus located in the heart of the Silicon Valley adjacent to NASA Ames Research Center.

"I'm absolutely thrilled," said NCSBT Principal Investigator Dr. Gregory Kovacs of Stanford University. "This center is a chance for us in the academic community to participate in exciting life sciences research and human exploration. Fabulous and interesting projects await our best and brightest, and we could not ask for a better situation," he added.

"This is an unprecedented opportunity to couple quality academic research with practical needs across the entire spectrum from immediate to long term," said Kovacs. "With the existing strong life sciences interest within NASA and the new space exploration vision, the time is right for such a center to bring together the right people and resources to assist NASA in reaching its scientific and medical goals."

One of the project's major technical goals is to harness modern sensors and data processing methods to provide focused and relevant information for a variety of tasks, including astronaut screening before Extra Vehicular Activity screening, launch and de-orbit monitoring, routine in-flight feedback to the crew members, and ground training. Environmental sensors will be developed and integrated with advances in direct monitoring of the status of human bodies. On-going efforts will include testing, improving and deploying advanced monitoring systems.

The center will also contribute to expanding NASA's knowledge of the effects of microgravity, radiation, and other space-related factors on living systems. This improved understanding of how space environments affect peoples' bodies will help to develop sophisticated countermeasures and therapies for future space travelers.

"With the guidance of our advisory board members--leaders from academia, industry, NASA, and other government laboratories around the nation--we hope some of the center's advances in biological technologies can form the basis for future advances in medical care," said Ricco.

Future developments of the NCSBT will also be transferable to the private sector for broader use of the newest medical technologies. The medical monitors developed by the center may find many uses in clinical medicine here on Earth. Such instruments could be used to diagnose cardiac disease, sleep disorders, and a variety of other physical conditions. 

"We are also developing an instrument to keep tabs on the immune systems of humans," ventured Hines. "Our immediate purpose is to meet NASA's needs, but then, these novel devices can be transitioned into the commercial world to benefit the people who contribute their tax money to enable such research."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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