Space station medicine a million miles from Earth - will include two devices developed under the direction of Dr. Dwayne R. Westenskow, associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
Prototypes of a ventilator and expert alarm system, and a monitor for exercise stress testing were shipped May 1 from the U. to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. NASA awarded grants totaling $312,000 to the U. for the development of the devices."The permanently manned space station is scheduled to be launched in 1996 and will include limited space for a medical clinic to provide care in case of illness or injury," said Westenskow, whose major interest is biomedical instrumentation. The prototypes developed at the U. over the past three years will be components of the clinic.
Ventilators, used to treat patients who are having trouble breathing on their own, could be needed in the space station if a crew member were to suffer a chest or head injury. Because a physician or trained respiratory therapist may not be among the crew, the ventilator developed by Westenskow automatically identifies and interprets problems so that even an untrained user can correct failures in the system.
"Conventional alarms can indicate a general problem - high airway pressure, for example. But they may not lead an untrained crew member to find a blocked tracheal breathing tube in time. The space station alarm system is `expert;' it can identify the blocked tube and suggest a solution," Westenskow said.
Because weightlessness causes physiological problems such as bone loss, muscular atrophy and cardiovascular deconditioning, NASA wants to be able to calculate whether crew members in space are staying fit. That will be the exercise stress test monitor's job.
Past experience in space has shown that bone loss is probably only partially reversible after returning to earth, and it seems to take a considerable length of time for astronauts to recover from cardiovascular deconditioning and muscular atrophy.
"The space station crew - 10 or 12 individuals - will exercise two hours daily. Our monitor will calculate their metabolic rate by measuring their oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output," he explained. "We hope to track weightlessness deconditioning and to assess the effectiveness of exercise countermeasures."
The instrument developed at the U. is self-calibrating and simple to use so NASA crew members with minimal training can get accurate measurements.
Two exercise monitors have been built during the research, the first at the U. and the second, to be sent to NASA, by a major subcontractor, Utah Medical Products, Inc. Both the ventilator and the exercise monitor will undergo additional testing by NASA before flight models are built.