The National Space Biomedical Research Institute has approved more than $7 million over three years to fund five biomedical projects at the Applied Physics Laboratory. The projects range from developing a spaceworthy magnetic resonance imaging system to helping create a "digital human."
Bobby Alford, NSBRI's chairman of the board and chief executive officer, said, "These projects will help the institute study and solve health-related problems associated with long-duration, manned space flights so that men and women can safely explore the solar system."
APL, along with the Hopkins School of Medicine, is a charter member of NSBRI, a NASA-sponsored consortium headed by the Baylor College of Medicine, which has expanded from seven to 12 members since it was formed in 1997. Research is performed in a dozen areas whose teams seek ways to prevent or solve health problems related to long-duration space travel and its prolonged weightlessness and exposure to an enhanced radiation environment. The funding will support development of the following five projects:
Space MRI--a proof-of-concept engineering model of a magnetic resonance imaging system for use in space. With minimum mass and power, the system will provide high-resolution, high-quality anatomical information without ionizing radiation so that it can be used repeatedly to track changes without harm. The initial work will include in-orbit imaging of mice and rats.
Radiation Monitor--a portable neutron energy spectrometer that will monitor the flight radiation environment due to neutrons inside the international space station where astronauts will live and work. This instrument already has been tested in aircraft at high altitudes, where there is an abundance of high-energy neutrons. The potential harmful effects of this radiation are a critical concern of NASA.
Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometer--a compact, lightweight scanner for space flight that uses multiple X-ray images to monitor bone and muscle loss in astronauts. This device will be critical to evaluating and monitoring the effectiveness of proposed countermeasures to bone loss.
Miniature Mass Spectrometer--a time-of-flight mass spectrometer that will be used as a medical diagnostic system during space flights to monitor human physiological functions routinely and noninvasively. This device will provide an opportunity to examine specimens in near real time in orbit as opposed to waiting until return to Earth as it's now done.
Simulating Human Functions--computer simulations of various human functions leading to a "digital human" that can be used to simulate health conditions, predict potential health problems and evaluate solutions for space travelers.
The new funding also will extend APL and NSBRI life sciences data archiving projects, which are expected to expand to incorporate the NASA life sciences data archive.