Volume 11, Number 2 Summer 2003 Technology Transfer
NASA Contributes to Improving Health
An innovative technology developed by NASA to help its astronauts combat motion sickness during space flight will be available in March 2004 for a much wider range of human health and performance uses.
Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the nation’s first African-American female astronaut, currently at BioSentient Corporation, Houston, obtained the license to commercialize the space-age technology known as Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE) that originally was developed by Dr. Patricia Cowings of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. The technique is a patented combination of biofeedback and autogenic therapy that allows individuals to eliminate or minimize their unwanted physical responses to outside stimuli by controlling their autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is responsible for controlling and regulating involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, heartbeat, sweating, blood vessel dilation and glandular secretions.
“What were previously considered involuntary, or autonomic, responses are in fact under voluntary control if you are taught properly,” said Cowings. “I have never met anyone who could not control their bodily responses to some degree the first time they tried,” she said. “It’s a function of knowing what to do.”
AFTE consists of a system of compact, ambulatory equipment to measure, record and display real-time ANS functions, combined with a unique 6- to 12-hour training that teaches individuals how to control their physiology using the feedback from the equipment. Advancing the original design, BioSentient has created a seamless system that includes a garment a person wears that can measure and wirelessly transfer physiologic data in real time; a small wrist display; and a computer station that a trainer can use to capture the data and teach a person the regulation techniques.
In various controlled studies conducted at NASA, Cowings found that AFTE is 85-percent effective in reducing motion side effects in both men and women, and is retained by individuals for up to 3 years after initial training. Since the mid-1980s, AFTE has been used successfully with US astronauts and to return US Navy pilots suffering severe airsickness to active duty in high-performance aircraft.
“BioSentient is examining AFTE as a treatment for anxiety, nausea, migraine and tension headaches, chronic pain, hypertension and hypotension, and stress-related disorders,” said Jemison, who underwent the training and successfully used it during her space flight, STS-47, in 1992.
“Other potential beneficiaries of AFTE include business executives, homeland security and law enforcement officers, air traffic controllers, nuclear power plant operators and others working in hazardous materials occupations where optimal personal performance and situational awareness are essential,” added Jemison, who also is a physician and chemical engineer.
Those who provide services to patients such as psychologists, cardiologists, neurologists, athletic trainers, biofeedback practitioners and rehabilitation and behavioral therapists can use AFTE. By training their patients, these specialists can teach people how to control their physiology with no pharmaceutical help. Q
For more information, contact Dr. Patricia Cowings at Patricia.S.Cowings@nasa.gov,