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Human Research Program

Glenn’s Human Research Program Ensures Astronaut Health and Safety

Ensuring the health, safety, and effective performance of astronauts is critical to the human exploration of space. NASA Glenn Research Center’s Human Research Program (HRP) plays a vital role in providing solutions to critical problems that place human exploration missions and their crews at risk. Glenn’s efforts are accomplished in support of the Johnson Space Center, which leads NASA’s Human Research Program. Glenn’s efforts, which began in October 2001, are currently focused on three projects: Exercise Countermeasures, Digital Astronaut, and Exploration Medical Capability.

The Exercise Physiology and Countermeasures Project provides optimized and validated exercise protocols and equipment designs that maximize benefits to the body, minimize crew time required for exercise, and minimize volume and mass requirements for exercise hardware.

The Digital Astronaut Project develops computational models of physiological systems affected by spaceflight and physiological simulations that help quantify health, safety and performance risks.

The Exploration Medical Capability Project develops requirements and designs for clinical medical hardware useable by a non-expert crew and a probabilistic risk analysis model of health care delivery during exploration missions.

Program Highlights

A few of the significant recent accomplishments from Glenn’s Human Research Program are highlighted below.

Enhanced Zero-g Locomotion Simulator (eZLS)

The Glenn Exercise Countermeasures Laboratory was recently completed. This facility provides the capability for simulating space flight (zero gravity) and surface (fractional gravity) exercise to identify better methods for preserving the health and safety of astronauts during future exploration missions. Mitigating bone loss and muscle atrophy, which are serious concerns for long duration spaceflight, are the primary goals of this facility. The enhanced Zero-gravity Locomotion Simulator (eZLS) is a key part of this laboratory. It was designed to allow the development and validation of advanced exercise countermeasure devices, requirements, and exercise prescriptions. This innovative facility has garnered wide acceptance by the NASA exercise community and has resulted in a smaller version called the standalone Zero-gravity Locomotion Simulator (sZLS). The sZLS was constructed for the Johnson Space Center and placed in operation at the University of Texas Medical Branch Bed Rest Facility. It will be used for complementary exercise investigations including bed rest studies.

Prototype Harness

During initial testing, the performance of the eZLS was shown to be very similar to the treadmill on the International Space Station (ISS). The eZLS has already been used to improve the design of a new ISS treadmill as well as the harness that is utilized to load the astronauts during exercise. The improved harness is a key factor in deriving the benefits of the exercise by ensuring that the exercise device provides an appropriate level of body loading while reducing the discomfort astronauts experience while running on the treadmill. Preliminary test results for a prototype harness developed by the Cleveland Clinic in partnership with Glenn have been very positive. As a result, the new harness will soon be tested on the ISS. Glenn’s collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic regarding exercise countermeasures has been recognized by the Human Research Program as a model partnership.

IMM: Fracture Risk

Because significant changes to the human body occur in a low gravity environment, Glenn has initiated the development of computational tools for integrative physiological modeling of the cardiovascular, neurovestibular and renal systems. These tools will be used to quantify normal human physiology in a space environment, eliminate knowledge gaps, aid in research investment decisions, and provide timely input for mission architecture and operations decisions. An integrated medical model is also under development to assess the risk of the crew experiencing bone fracture and renal stone formation. Preliminary results have been obtained for assessment of bone fracture risk for astronauts.

Analyses of concepts for intravenous fluid generation and drug mixing in a microgravity environment have been completed. Tests of drug mixing techniques have been conducted on NASA’s C-9 aircraft, which can produce microgravity conditions. Future plans include the design, construction and demonstration of a device for flight demonstration on the ISS in 2010. Development and testing of sensors and instrumentation is continuing for exercise and health monitoring.

Within the medical community in Northeast Ohio, new research at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Space Medicine has been funded to include the following: a novel bedrest simulation of lunar exploration, telesurgical treatment of in-flight renal stones using a novel endoscopic guidance system, and a novel approach for monitoring site-specific bone loss in microgravity. A new effort is underway at University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University for collaboration in radiation modeling and dosimetry to address the negative effects of radiation and other spaceflight stressors. The effect of radiation on the body during long duration missions is a major health concern for astronauts.

Strategic Partnerships Update

Glenn partners extensively with other organizations. Some of the key partnerships are described below.

The John Glenn Biomedical Engineering Consortium is a collaborative effort between Glenn, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, the National Center for Space Exploration Research, and the University Hospitals of Cleveland to perform interdisciplinary research, leveraging Glenn expertise in fluid physics and sensor technology to mitigate critical risks to crew health, safety and performance.

Glenn is collaborating with the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Space Medicine. The Center for Space Medicine provides a focal point for ongoing space-related medical research at the Cleveland Clinic. The collaboration provides Glenn researchers access to a network of more than 2000 physicians and scientists employed by the Cleveland Clinic. It also provides the Clinic access to Glenn’s preeminent physical science expertise with the goal of contributing to solutions for medical problems experienced by humans during long duration space flight.

A new opportunity for collaboration is being pursued between Glenn and the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base as a result of the Department of Defense Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions, establishing the Air Force Institute for Aerospace Medicine at Wright Patterson.  Several areas of mutual interest have been identified for continued interaction and collaboration. In addition to broad areas of collaboration, 10 specific areas of mutual interest have been identified to date.

Glenn is collaborating with BioEnterprise, a business formation, recruitment, and acceleration initiative designed to grow bioscience companies. The Space Act Agreement between Glenn and BioEnterprise enables collaborative efforts to further the development and commercialization of life science-related technologies in Northeast Ohio. It allows NASA access to BioEnterprise clients where technologies may be of benefit to NASA missions.

Other collaborations have included a National Institute of Health Interagency Agreement for technology transfer and a cooperative agreement with the University of Michigan for the NASA Bioscience and Engineering Institute.

Health Care on Earth and Commercialization

Glenn’s Human Research Program has significant application to health care on Earth and the potential for commercialization of products to support Ohio’s economic development in the biosciences. Some examples are described below.

A new commercial product called the vMetrics System was recently announced by ZIN Medical Inc., a company jointly owned by ZIN Medical and the Cleveland Clinic. This system provides real-time monitoring of patients through a compact, wireless device and can be used in space, military and commercial applications. The technology was developed under a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) project managed by Glenn that included funding support from the John Glenn Biomedical Engineering Consortium. The first commercial application is supporting the atrial fibrillation market.

A new initiative has been launched under the Ohio Technology Cluster Commercialization Program through the Glenn Alliance for Technology Exchange team. The initiative involves the application of biocompatible nanoporous filters for biomedical purposes, which could revolutionize the standard of care for kidney disease. The filter design is based, in part, on work from a John Glenn Biomedical Engineering Consortium project. Additional funding has just been awarded under the NASA Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Program.

Finally, an assessment was recently completed to identify projects from Glenn’s Human Research Program with applicability to health care on Earth and the potential for commercialization. In addition to the efforts described above, projects identified include the following:

♦ Project Rescue – a method and system for remotely monitoring in real-time, via a web interface, EKG and other vital statistics of patients without constraining their  movement

♦ Blood Glucose Monitor – a method and apparatus for the non-invasive measurements of blood-glucose levels

♦ Cataract and Ocular Sensor – a method and apparatus for determining the physical characteristics of the lens and other ocular tissue

♦ Portable Unit for Metabolic Analysis (PUMA) – system that measures oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production to quantify the level of exercise and state of fitness

PUMA Headgear


Glenn’s Human Research Program is playing a critical role in ensuring the health, safety and effective performance of astronauts. Glenn has actively sought and established strategic collaborations with other organizations in Ohio and the surrounding region to provide a preeminent team to support the NASA missions. In addition to addressing NASA mission needs, Glenn’s Human Research Program has strong relevance and applicability to health care needs on Earth with significant potential for commercialization of products and development of new companies to enhance Ohio’s economic development in the biosciences.