NASA Technologies Contribute to Medical Breakthroughs
by Dr. Robert Norwood
lthough NASA's primary
missions remain space exploration, space science and advanced aeronautical
research, NASA continues to reach new heights in other fields. The medical
field, in particular, has benefited from NASA research on how space flight
affects the cardiovascular system. Cardiovascular disease is prioritized
as a leading cause of death in the United States. Techniques derived from
space research have led to more sophisticated, less costly, less painful
methods of treatment. Breakthrough discoveries in research for the treatment
of the cardiovascular system have proven fruitful in revolutionizing the
practice of medicine.
This issue presents several examples of cutting-edge technology applied
to common but important products and services that improve our health
and well-being. For example, NASA research in small high-performance spacecraft
has resulted in technology that has improved heart pacemakers. During
the late 1970's through the 80's, NASA was a key player in the development
of the first implantable heart defibrillator, which won Food and Drug
Administration approval. This device, known as the Automatic Implantable
Cardioverter Defibrillator (AICD), incorporates space-based miniaturized
electronics to detect a broad range of spontaneous heart arrhythmias.
Other NASA technologies contributing to the AICD are computer modeling
and quality control techniques. We can expect more of NASA's advanced
technology to be available for newer models of heart-assist devices with
more capability and perhaps more intelligence. Blood flow modeling used
to develop heart pumps is a direct leverage of advanced computational
fluid dynamics expertise and software used to develop high-performance
turbojet engines that can propel a supersonic aircraft, as well as to
obtain optimal performance for Space Shuttle main engine liquid oxygen
turbopumps that can pump more than 8,000 gallons per minute into a rocket
engine to generate more than 500,000 pounds of thrust. We also provide
information on exercise technologies derived from medical research on
astronauts and grow special tissues in space that are applied to medical
procedures on Earth.
Space technology and modern medicine often work hand-in-hand. Because
of space technology, life-saving medical breakthroughs, such as laser
angioplasty, a procedure in which a thin fiber optic catheter is inserted
into an artery and threaded to a blockage in a coronary artery, and digital
imaging, a process that converts analog signals into digital signals to
create sharp, enhanced, accurate images, are now possible.
Yesterday's accomplishments, coupled with today's innovations, pave the
way for tomorrow's advances as NASA's Commercial Technology program continues
to focus its efforts on the transfer of our technologies into state-of-the-art
products and services. With a continued emphasis on partnering with industry,
companies have transferred NASA know-how into products and services that
affect and enhance our everyday life.
Technology transfer and commercialization continue to grow in importance
to our economic well-being and contribute to more than one-third of all
U.S. business technology needs. As NASA's research in the medical field
progresses, we can expect more examples in the years to come.
research in small
has resulted in technology
that has improved heart pacemakers.