This blog post is part 2 in a mini-series of 4. Click here to read part 1, part 3 and part 4.
We see healthcare moving towards a digital world and it is this change that is profound because it offers solutions that are smaller, cheaper and smarter. With the right technology and design, these digital solutions allow us to capture a more complete picture of a person’s health, both in space and on Earth.
Advancements in sensor technology has led to sensors that become so small they can be embedded in sophisticated small devices or even patches that stick to the skin to make continuous vital sign monitoring possible. On terrestrial Intensive Care units this makes that people no longer need to be tethered to large machines, plugged to the wall. Increasingly we can keep an eye on patients while they are not bothered by wires, not stuck to a particular area for connective reasons, or in other ways hindered in daily activities (like swimming!). As we keep looking for ways to make a hospital stay less intrusive to patients lives (if a hospital stay is needed at all), those same techniques are applied to astronauts living in space. They might not be wearing measurement devices everyday of their trip, but these technologies offer ways of monitoring them more often and more effectively, all while they can keep up with their working activities. A nice example of this is a new monitoring shirt called Astroskin that will be send up to the International Space Station in 2018. It sends measurements back to Earth, where doctors can monitor astronaut’s health.
Credit: Canadian Space Agency; The Astroskin of Hexoskin will fly to space in 2018.
Using experience design methods, people have come up with new ways of acquiring valuable health information in the digital age. Examples include new ways of entering information in questionnaires. To have a low impact on daily live, experiments are underway that spread out the burden of filling in endless forms, throughout the day: every time someone unlocks their smartphone, a question gets presented. As we pick up our smartphones many times a day, redesigning the experience of providing relevant health information might offer a reduction of the burden of disease for patients. To not disturb the daily activities of astronauts, or require lots of their valuable time and attention, designingthe right experience can result in more efficient collecting of health related data in space.
Credit: Soul Machines; Virtual humans might need a disclaimer: we are not real…
New ways of interacting with computers that augment the experience are introduced by the advent of virtual humans. Over the last couple of years we have seen examples of human avatars developed to a point where it becomes hard to see differences with real human faces. These realistic avatars will provide a more natural way to engage with computer intelligences. Some of them have been co-created and tested with Australian national disability insurance scheme participants, aiming to eliminate filling in forms on websites and to provide new ways of navigating the internet. How would a directly accessible personal human-like assistant benefit an astronaut on its way to Mars?
Next to these developments, technology to gain insight in our inner (physical) selfs, our genomes (and other ~omes) is decreasing exponentially in cost. This has resulted in consumer test kits becoming available to the general public for testing proneness to diseases or suggesting lifestyle changes according to your body’s response to diet, exercise and stress. Genomic sequencing is also being tried in space. For example, the MinION is a handheld genome sequencing device that has been around in the International Space Station since 2016. Yesterday NASA published on the success of a new experiment: unknown microbes were successfully identified on board ISS using the MinION. As far as I know, it was not yet tested to make the same kinds of health and lifestyle suggestions as consumer kits do, based on changes in gene expression in astronaut tissue samples…
Credits: NASA; Astronaut Kate Rubins with the MinION
This post is part of a mini-series of 4. Next time: what should we be doing with all this data?
Written by Jules Lancee
In my work as a biomedical engineer I focus on emerging technologies and their role in a changing world of healthcare. I explore how they will impact the care that we deliver to patients, but find it equally interesting how they will be able to benefit the future of long-term spaceflight. I think both questions are opportunities for collaboration and inspiration!