Ultraviolet-Blocking Lenses Protect, Enhance Vision

In the 1980s, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists James Stephens and Charles Miller were studying the harmful properties of light in space, as well as that of artificial radiation produced during laser and welding work. The intense light emitted during welding can harm unprotected eyes, leading to a condition called arc eye, in which ultraviolet light causes inflammation of the cornea and long-term retinal damage.

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Based on work done at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Eagle Eyes lenses filter out harmful radiation, reduce light scattering, and permit vision-enhancing wavelengths of light, protecting eyesight while also improving visibility.

To combat this danger, the JPL scientists developed a welding curtain capable of absorbing, filtering, and scattering the dangerous light. The curtain employed a light-filtering/vision-enhancing system based on dyes and tiny particles of zinc oxide—unique methods they discovered by studying birds of prey. The birds require near-perfect vision for hunting and survival, often needing to spot prey from great distances. The birds’ eyes produce tiny droplets of oil that filter out harmful radiation and permit only certain visible wavelengths of light through, protecting the eye while enhancing eyesight. The researchers replicated this oil droplet process in creating the protective welding curtain.

 

The welding curtain was commercialized, and then the scientists focused attention on another area where blocking ultraviolet light would be beneficial to the eyes: sunglasses. In 2010, the groundbreaking eyewear technology was inducted into the Space Foundation’s Space Technology Hall of Fame, which honors a select few products each year that have stemmed from space research and improved our lives here on Earth.

Partnership

SunTiger Inc.—now Eagle Eyes Optics, of Calabasas, California—was formed to market a full line of sunglasses based on the licensed NASA technology that promises 100-percent elimination of harmful wavelengths and enhanced visual clarity. Today, Eagle Eyes sunglasses are worn by millions of people around the world who enjoy the protective and vision-enhancing benefits.

Product Outcome

The Eagle Eyes lens (right) makes scenes more vivid because harmless wavelength colors such as red, orange, yellow, and green are enhanced, and damaging rays in the blue, violet, and ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths are blocked.

Maximum eye protection from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays is critical to our ability to see clearly. This is because when light enters the eye, a series of events happen which can help, hinder, or even destroy our eyesight. First, light passes through the cornea and ultimately reaches the retina which contains two types of cells—rods (which handle vision in low light) and cones (which handle color vision and detail). The retina contains 100 million rods and 7 million cones. The outer segment of a rod or a cone contains the photosensitive chemical, rhodopsin, also called “visual purple.” Rhodopsin is the chemical that allows night vision, and is extremely sensitive to light. When exposed to a full spectrum of light, rhodopsin immediately bleaches out, and takes about 30 minutes to fully regenerate, with most of the adaption occurring in the dark within 5 to 10 minutes. Rhodopsin is less sensitive to the longer red wavelengths of light and therefore depleted more slowly (which is why many people use red light to help preserve night vision). When our eyes are exposed to the harmful, ultraviolet light rays of the Sun (UVA, UVB, and blue-light rays), damage to our eyes and their complex vision-enhancing processes can occur and not even be noticed until years later, long after exposure.

The most common form of eye damage related to ultraviolet exposure, cataracts, causes the lens of the eye to cloud, losing transparency and leading to reduced vision and, if left untreated, blindness. In the United States alone, it is estimated that cataracts diminish the eyesight of millions of people at an expense of billions of dollars. Other forms of eye damage directly attributable to ultraviolet exposure include pterygium, an abnormal mass of tissue arising from the conjunctiva of the inner corner of the eye; skin cancer around the eyes; and macular degeneration, which damages the center of the eye and prevents people from seeing fine details.

Alan Mittleman, president and CEO of Eagle Eyes explains, “When we’re born, our eyes are clear like drops of water. Throughout life, we start to destroy those sensitive tissues, causing the yellowing of the eyes and the gradual worsening of eyesight. When the eye becomes more and more murky, cataracts form. Simple protection of the human eye, from childhood and throughout adulthood could protect the clarity of the eye and extend good vision for many years—even our entire lifetime.

“It has only been recently,” he adds, “that people started to realize the importance of this.” Sunglass manufacturers are recognizing the importance of eye care, and consumers are becoming more aware of eye health. One issue still plaguing the sunglass market, though, is that consumers assume that darker lenses are more protective, which is not always the case.

 

It may feel more comfortable to wear the dark lenses, but in addition to reducing the field of vision, it relaxes the eye, which allows more blue light to get directly to the retina. Blue light, in particular, has long-term implications, because it passes through the cornea and damages the inner retinal area.

The Eagle Eyes lens allows wearers to see more clearly because it protects from ultraviolet light, but more importantly, blocks this blue light, allowing the good visible light while blocking the harmful wavelengths.

Among their many donations throughout the years and goal of spreading good vision and eye protection to remote areas of the world, Eagle Eyes Optics had the opportunity recently to provide assistance to a group in sore need of eye protection: children in Galena, Alaska. The incidence of cataracts is 300 times greater in Alaska because of the Sun’s reflection off of the snow. Eagle Eyes donated 150 pairs of its sunglasses to a high school in Galena, and they were delivered by members of the Space Foundation and presented by former NASA astronaut Livingston Holder.

[Source]

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Handheld Diagnostic Device Delivers Quick Medical Readings

NASA Technology

In a 1962 speech, President John F. Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” And what a feat of engineering it was in 1969 when, after 4 days and 239,000 miles of rocket-powered thrust, NASA’s lunar module landed on the Moon’s surface, turning an important page in humankind’s progress.

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An artist’s rendition of an astronaut gathering samples on the surface of Mars. Long-term space missions would require that astronauts have access to remote health monitoring devices, like the Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans (rHEALTH) sensor.

Photo: NASA Spinoff


And what a page-turner that will be. Based on current technology, the best estimate is that it will take crewmembers 7-10 months before they land on Martian soil. For comparison, the Mars Curiosity rover took more than 8 months to complete its 352 million-mile flight path. And while the Curiosity mission is a marvel of engineering, a mission that sends humans to Mars will be an even larger challenge, because many innovations will have to be developed to ensure that astronauts have the necessary tools to survive what could be years spent in space.Fast-forward to 2013, and the Space Agency has its sights set on another lofty goal: a manned landing on the Red Planet. “‘A human mission to Mars is today the ultimate destination in our solar system for humanity, and it is a priority for NASA,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a recent speech.

One aspect critical to an astronaut’s long-term survival away from Earth is effective and efficient health-monitoring technologies. In space, there are no laboratories that can analyze blood samples in order to check for possible diseases or deficiencies.

In 2003, NASA scientists were already looking for a device that in one reading could register red and white blood cell counts as well as other substances, such as electrolytes, hormones, and other molecules. It also needed to be conducive to use in space. “We needed something that was miserly in terms of the resources it required, had a long shelf life, and was very light, adaptable, and portable,” says Emily S. Nelson, a senior research engineer at Glenn Research Center.

Unable to find anything “off the shelf” that fit the bill, Nelson says, “We came to realize we needed something specially designed to meet our requirements, so we identified our essential requirements and broadcast a call for solicitations.”

Technology Transfer

Answering the call was Cambridge, Massachusetts-based DNA Medicine Institute Inc. (DMI). Founded in 2008, the company specializes in developing innovative medical devices, and NASA’s solicitation fell within its expertise. That year, Glenn awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to the firm, which went on to design the Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Lab Technology for Humans (rHEALTH) sensor. It’s a compact, portable device that utilizes a battery of technologies to measure all of the substances NASA needed to monitor, in addition to other health-indicativebiomarkers such as antibodies.

The first critical components of the device are the microfluidic handling units, which are tiny channels that prepare the drawn blood for analysis by moving it through the device, which performs a series of tasks such as separating, diluting, and mixing various constituents. But unlike conventional blood tests, which use cartridges that must be discarded after every test, the rHEALTH sensor’s units, in addition to being more efficient, are also reusable, which cuts down on both costs and the volume of material that needs to be brought into space. Next is the device’s novel use of optical fluorescence technology, which can singlehandedly measure biomarkers, electrolytes, and analytes (biochemical substances) and also performs cell counts. The substance in question will glow if it’s in the sample, and its fluorescent intensity indicates how much of it is present.

The third major component of the technology is an example of big things coming in small packages. It was developed through separate SBIR contracts, the first of which was awarded the following year. In that round of solicitations, NASA Glenn sought proposals for a technology that had the potential to perform a massive number of tests simultaneously on a single blood sample, which no product on the market could do at the time.

DMI answered the call with its nanostrip reagents. “They’re kind of similar to urine analysis or pH test strips where you have a series of different pads for sensing analytes,” says Eugene Chan, the company’s founder and president. “The big difference is we’ve shrunk that technology over a billion-fold in volume so that we can implement that at the blood cell level.” Each individual nanostrip can perform a panel of blood tests, and it is also encoded with a fluorescent tag, similar to a bar code, that identifies which set of analytes are being measured. A set of multisensor nanostrips could then measure hundreds of biomarkers or more from one blood sample.

Nelson says the innovation is a game changer. “Once it’s fully developed, the DMI technology could permit more blood tests per sample than anything on the market,” she says. “It would also allow greater flexibility to define the types of tests that would be done, whether they are routine blood panels or novel biomarkers that are used for cutting-edge research. Chan’s pioneering innovations could bring revolutionary new capabilities to medical diagnosis and treatment, whether that’s in a clinical setting or in the emergency room or in space.”

Benefits

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The rHealth sensor utilizes nanostrip technology to analyze dozens of biomarkers simultaneously. The device was also designed with efficiency and reusability in mind.

Photo: NASA Spinoff


 

The rHEALTH sensor is also currently available for purchase by universities and research centers, and within the next year the company is expecting to get the product approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use in hospitals, clinics, and even homes. “We want to provide information for the masses,” Chan says. “With the device, people can measure their insulin levels, thyroid hormone and cholesterol levels, practically anything. And beyond just the variety of measurements is the time factor; from pin prick to results spans all of two minutes.”With its low mass, efficiency, and versatility, the rHEALTH sensor is vying with other recently developed portable diagnostic devices for the right to be used for space medical research onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Scientists would like to collect data on dozens of biomarkers on the ISS to help better understand some of the biggest medical concerns for long-duration spaceflight, including immune dysregulation, bone loss, muscle atrophy, kidney stone formation, and visual dysfunction. The sensor has already been proven to work in microgravity simulations following tests done on parabolic flights, which mimic the weightlessness of space.

“A lot of times you don’t want to wait for the central lab to get the information back to you,” Chan says, “or you might be in space where there’s no central lab or in the field somewhere in the middle of Africa. Having this high-powered test in the palm of your hand is what this is really all about.”

This technology is made possible, Chan says, with support from a forward-thinking agency such as NASA. “It takes that space-age kind of thinking to develop something that’s a breakthrough,” he says. “Ever since they’ve [NASA] demonstrated an interest in this, the general field has picked up. The Agency has really galvanized the whole sector.”

Circulation-Enhancing Device Improves CPR

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Ever stand up too quickly from a sitting or lying position and feel dizzy or disoriented for a brief moment? The downward push of Earth’s gravity naturally causes blood to settle in the lower areas of the human body, and occasionally, with a quick movement—such as rising swiftly from a chair—the body is not able to adjust fast enough to deliver an adequate supply of blood to the upper parts of the body and the brain. This sudden, temporary drop in blood pressure is what causes brief feelings of lightheadedness upon standing. In essence, when the heart pumps blood to different parts of the body, it is working against the physical phenomenon of gravity in its efforts to send blood up to the brain.

ResQPOD circulation-enhancing device
The ResQPOD is an impedance threshold device used to enhance circulation during CPR. It could be used to increase circulation for astronauts as their bodies initially adjust to a return to gravity from the weightlessness of space.

In more cases than not, the body is able to make the necessary adjustments to ensure proper blood flow and pressure to the brain; but when the disorientation lasts a long time and/or become chronic, individuals may have a condition called orthostatic intolerance. According to the American Journal of Physiology–Heart and Circulatory Physiology, an estimated 500,000 Americans are affected by orthostatic intolerance. Symptoms range from occasional fainting, blurry vision, and pain or discomfort in the head and the neck, to tiredness, weakness, and a lack of concentration. Though research indicates that the condition is not life-threatening, it could impact the quality of life and contribute to falls that result in serious injuries.

The condition is a prominent concern for NASA, since astronauts have to readjust to the gravitational environment of Earth after spending days in the weightlessness of space. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate has found that roughly 20 percent of astronauts coming off of short-duration space flights experience difficulty maintaining proper blood pressure when moving from lying down to either sitting or standing during the first few days back on Earth. The difficulties are even more severe for astronauts coming off of long-duration missions, according to the mission directorate, as 83 percent of these crewmembers experience some degree of the condition.

Cardiovascular experts at NASA have found that the blood that normally settles in the lower regions of the body is instead pulled to the upper body in the microgravity environment of space. Blood volume is subsequently reduced as some cardiovascular reflexes are no longer being used, and less blood flows to the legs. Additionally, the muscles weaken, especially in the lower portion of the body, because they are not working (contracting) as hard as they usually do. This is not so much a concern for the astronauts while they are in space, since the action of floating around takes the place of putting center-of-gravity pressure on their legs. (They do exercise strenuously while in microgravity, though, to keep their muscles and circulatory systems conditioned, thus preparing their bodies for the return to gravity as best they can.) When they return to Earth’s gravity, however, more blood returns to the legs. Since there is a lower volume of blood, the flow that is supposed to be traveling to the brain can be insufficient. That is when orthostatic intolerance can set in.

NASA has conducted and sponsored a wealth of studies to counter the effects of orthostatic intolerance, especially since the condition could prevent an astronaut from exiting a landed spacecraft in the event of an emergency. In one study conducted by Johnson Space Center’s Cardiovascular Laboratory, astronauts in orbit tested the efficacy of a drug called midodrine that has successfully reduced orthostatic intolerance in patients on Earth. The early results were promising, but further testing will be conducted by the laboratory before more conclusive results can be determined. In another study, the laboratory is using a controlled tilt test on Earth to replicate the body’s responses to a shift from reclining to sitting or standing.

At Ames Research Center, researchers are utilizing NASA’s 20-G artificial gravity centrifuge machine in a pilot study on cardiovascular responses and fluid shifts in the body. A separate Ames study is evaluating the possibility of expanding astronauts’ plasma volumes (the fluid part of the blood, minus the blood cells), as a preventative measure.

Patient receiving respiratory support
The ResQPOD increases circulation in states of low blood pressure. When used on patients in cardiac arrest, the ResQPOD harnesses the chest wall recoil after each compression to generate a small but critical vacuum within the chest. This vacuum enhances blood flow back to the heart and results in a marked increase in blood flow out of the heart with each subsequent chest compression.

In NASA-sponsored research at Vanderbilt University, researchers have successfully identified a genetic cause for orthostatic intolerance. The findings marked the first time a genetic defect had been linked to a disorder of the autonomic immune system, according to the discoverers, and could eventually lead to new drugs and treatments for the condition.

At Kennedy Space Center, a collaborative research effort with the U.S. Army and private industry has yielded an important application for a new, non-invasive medical device called ResQPOD that is now available for astronauts returning from space. In helping to reacquaint the astronauts with the feeling of gravity, ResQPOD quickly and effectively increases the circulation of blood flow to the brain. This device is also available to the public as a means to enhance circulation for breathing patients suffering from orthostatic intolerance and for non-breathing patients suffering cardiac arrest or other high-risk clinical conditions attributed to low blood pressure.

Partnership

Advanced Circulatory Systems Inc., of Minneapolis, collaborated with Kennedy and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research for more than 5 years to develop ResQPOD. Don Doerr, an engineer at Kennedy, led the testing and development effort; Dr. Victor Convertino of the Institute of Surgical Research (and a former NASA scientist at Kennedy) also played an instrumental role in developing the technology.

Multiple clinical studies were conducted during the research effort, including six published studies. The published works demonstrate that ResQPOD offers a significant improvement in cardiac output and blood flow to the brain and in preventing shock in the event of considerable blood loss, when compared to conventional resuscitation. According to Advanced Circulatory Systems, data from the NASA studies played a major role in the company obtaining U.S. Food and Drug Administration 501K clearance for the device.

Dr. Keith Lurie, chief medical officer at Advanced Circulatory Systems and a primary member of the collaborative research effort, said, “The three-way partnership between NASA, private industry, and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research is really a model for how organizations can work together to benefit both government programs and civilians.”

In 2006, Dr. Smith Johnston, the lead flight surgeon for NASA’s space shuttle missions, added ResQPOD to the list of medical equipment that is available for returning astronaut crews. The device was on hand for the landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-115) on September 21, 2006.

“We’re excited that our devices were available to the medical team [for the STS-115 mission] and look forward to continued collaboration with NASA to assist its efforts to safeguard the health of the astronauts,” added Lurie.

Diagram showing blood flow to the heart during CPR
During the decompression (release) phase of CPR, an increase in negative pressure in the thoracic cavity results in drawing more blood back into the chest, providing greater venous return to the heart.
Diagram showing increased blood flow to the heart with ResQPOD
CPR delivers approximately 15 percent of normal blood flow to the heart. The ResQPOD doubles blood flow back to the heart.

Product Outcome

Manufactured commercially by Advanced Circulatory Systems and distributed by Sylmar, California-based Tri-anim Health Services Inc., the ResQPOD circulatory enhancer improves upon the standard of care for patients with a variety of clinical conditions associated with low blood flow. Advanced Circulatory Systems’ primary commercial focus, though, is on non-breathing patients who can benefit from enhanced circulation, such as those experiencing cardiac arrest.

According to the American Heart Association, about 900 Americans fall victim to sudden cardiac arrest every day, with approximately 95 percent dying before they reach the hospital. This is why cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can mean the difference between life and death, as increasing blood flow to the heart and brain until the heart can be restarted is critical to improving survival rates with normal neurological functioning.

ResQPOD is an American Heart Association-rated Class IIa impedance threshold device, meaning that it is the highest recommended “adjunct” in the association’s latest guidelines for CPR. As a Class IIa impedance threshold device, it also carries a higher recommendation than any medication used to boost circulation in adults suffering cardiac arrest, according to these guidelines.

Diagram showing blood flow to the brain during CPR
Improved venous return results in increased cardiac output during the subsequent compression phase of CPR, providing greater blood flow to the brain.
Diagram showing increased blood flow to the brain with ResQPOD
CPR delivers approximately 25 percent of normal blood flow to the brain. The ResQPOD delivers more than 70 percent of normal blood flow to the brain.

The device is about the size of a fist and can be affixed to either a facemask or an endotracheal breathing tube during CPR. It enhances the intrathoracic vacuum that forms in the chest during the chest recoil phase of CPR by temporarily sealing off the airway between breaths and preventing unnecessary air from entering the chest (timing-assist lights on the device will aid the rescuer in ventilating the patient at a proper rate). The vacuum that is created pulls blood back to the heart, doubling the amount of blood that is pulled back by conventional mouth-to-mouth/chest compression CPR, according to clinical studies, which also show that blood flow to the brain is increased by 50 percent. In sustaining proper blood flow to the heart and to the brain, ResQPOD increases the likelihood of survival and decreases the likelihood of neurological disorders.

ResQPOD is being used by emergency medical technicians in cities all around the country, including Boston, Houston, Indianapolis, Miami, and Oklahoma City, as well as Hartford, Connecticut; Kansas City, Missouri; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Toledo, Ohio. In some cities, it has reportedly increased the number of cardiac arrest patients delivered alive to the hospital by as much as 50 percent. At Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services (EMS), a large medical care organization serving more than 400,000 residents in the greater Houston area, ResQPOD has become a standard of care. Overall resuscitation rates climbed to nearly 50 percent since the organization began deploying the device in 2005, boosting hospital admission rates from 26 percent to an astounding 38 percent.

“These results are gratifying, and we applaud the entire Cypress Creek EMS organization for their advanced emergency medical service care and their ability to turn around the dismal statistics that surround cardiac arrest,” noted Advanced Circulatory Systems’ Lurie.

In its secondary commercial applications, Advanced Circulatory Systems is offering ResQPOD to improve circulation in patients suffering from orthostatic intolerance and general low blood pressure. These secondary uses also apply to individuals who undergo dialysis treatments and may experience a drop in blood pressure, as well as those who go into shock after severe blood loss.

Outside of the traditional hospital setting, the company is investigating the beneficial impact ResQPOD could have on wounded soldiers in the battlefield who may have lost a great deal of blood and are in danger of going into shock.

Advanced Circulatory Systems is also harnessing the physiological principles discovered during its research collaboration with NASA to develop another promising technology: an intrathoracic pressure regulator for patients requiring ventilation assistance because they are too sick to breathe on their own.

ResQPOD® is a registered trademark of Advanced Circulatory Systems Inc.

[Source]

Space Research Fortifies Nutrition Worldwide

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

In addition to the mammoth engineering challenge posed by launching a cargo-laden craft into space for a long-distance mission, keeping the crews safe and healthy for these extended periods of time in space poses further challenges, problems for which NASA scientists are constantly seeking new answers. Obstacles include maintaining long-term food supplies, ensuring access to clean air and potable water, and developing efficient means of waste disposal—all with the constraints of being in a spacecraft thousands of miles from Earth, and getting farther every minute. NASA continues to overcome these hurdles, though, and is in the process of designing increasingly efficient life support systems to make life aboard the International Space Station sustainable for laboratory crews, and creating systems for use on future lunar laboratories and the upcoming long trip to Mars.

Skylab food heating and serving tray
Shown here is the Skylab food heating and serving tray with food, drink, and utensils. While this represented a great improvement over the food served on earlier space flights, NASA researchers still had plenty of room for progress.

Ideal life support systems for these closed environments would take up very little space, consume very little power, and require limited crew intervention—these much-needed components would virtually disappear while doing their important jobs. One NASA experiment into creating a low-profile life support system involved living ecosystems in contained environments. Dubbed the Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (CELSS) these contained systems attempted to address the basic needs of crews, meet stringent payload and power usage restrictions, and minimize space occupancy by developing living, regenerative ecosystems that would take care of themselves and their inhabitants—recreating Earth-like conditions.

Years later, what began as an experiment with different methods of bioregenerative life support for extended-duration, human-crewed space flight, has evolved into one of the most widespread NASA spinoffs of all time.

Partnership

In the 1980s, Baltimore-based Martin Marietta Corporation worked with NASA to test the use of certain strains of microalgae as a food supply, oxygen source, and a catalyst for waste disposal as part of the CELSS experiments. The plan was for the microalgae to become part of the life support system on long-duration flights, taking on a plethora of tasks with minimal space, energy, and maintenance requirements. During this research, the scientists discovered many things about the microalgae, realizing ultimately that its properties were valuable to people not only in space, but here on Earth, as a nutritional supplement. The scientists, fueled by these discoveries, spun off from Martin Marietta, and in 1985, formed Martek Biosciences Corporation, in Columbia, Maryland.

Product Outcome

Now, after two decades of continued research on the same microalgae studied for use in long-duration space flight, Martek has developed into a major player in the nutrition field, with over 500 employees and annual revenue of more than $270 million. The reach of the company’s space-developed product, though, is what is most impressive. Martek’s main products, life’sDHA and life’sARA, both of which trace directly back to the original NASA CELSS work, can be found in over 90 percent of the infant formulas sold in the United States, and are added to the infant formulas sold in over 65 additional countries. With such widespread use, the company estimates that over 24 million babies worldwide have consumed its nutritional additives.

Outside of the infant formula market, Martek’s commercial partners include General Mills Inc., Yoplait USA Inc., Odwalla Inc., Kellogg Company, and Dean Foods Company’s WhiteWave Foods division (makers of the Silk, Horizon Organic, and Rachel’s brands).

Food products containing arachidonic acid (ARA)
NASA experiments into plant growth for long-duration space flights led to the identification and manufacturing method for a nutritional supplement now found in everyday foods.

Why would so many people consume these products? The primary ingredient is one of the building blocks of health: A fatty acid found in human breast milk, known to improve brain function and visual development, which recent studies have indicated plays a significant role in heart health. It is only introduced to the body through dietary sources, so supplements containing it are in high demand.

The primary discovery Martek made while exploring properties of microalgae for use in long-duration space flights was identifying Crypthecodinium cohnii, a strain of algae that produces docosahexaenoc acid (DHA) naturally and in high quantities. Using the same principles, the company also patented a method for developing another fatty acid that plays a key role in infant health, arachidonic acid (ARA). This fatty acid, it extracts from the fungus Mortierella alpina.

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid, naturally found in the body, which plays a key role in infant development and adult health. Most abundant in the brain, eyes, and heart, it is integral in learning ability, mental development, visual acuity, and in the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease.

Approximately 60 percent of the brain is composed of structural fat (the gray matter), of which nearly half is composed of DHA. As such, it is an essential building block for early brain development, as well as a key structural element in maintaining healthy brain functioning through all stages of life. It is especially important in infancy, though, when the most rapid brain growth occurs—the human brain nearly triples in size during the first year of life. Breast milk, which is generally two-thirds fat, is a chief source for DHA for children, both a testament to the body’s need for this substance and an argument for sustainable sources that can be added to infant formula. Studies have shown that adults, too, need DHA for healthy brain functioning, and that the important chemical is delivered through the diet.

DHA is also a key component in the structural fat that makes up the eye, and is vital for visual development and ocular health. The retina, for example, contains a high concentration of DHA, which the body forms from nutritious fats in the diet. With heart tissue, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found supporting evidence that DHA consumption may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

This important compound, previously only found in human breast milk, and with undeniable nutritional value, is now available throughout the world. It is one example of how NASA research intended to sustain life in space has found its way back to Earth, where it is improving the lives of people everywhere.

life’sDHA™ and life’sARA™ are trademarks of Martek Biosciences Corporation.

Silk®, Horizon Organic®, and Rachel’s® are registered trademarks of the WhiteWave Foods Company.

[Source]

Polymer Coats Leads on Implantable Medical Device

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

Langley Research Center’s Soluble Imide (LaRC-SI) was discovered by accident. While researching resins and adhesives for advanced composites for high-speed aircraft, Robert Bryant, a Langley engineer, noticed that one of the polymers he was working with did not behave as predicted. After putting the compound through a two-stage controlled chemical reaction, expecting it to precipitate as a powder after the second stage, he was surprised to see that the compound remained soluble. This novel characteristic ended up making this polymer a very significant finding, eventually leading Bryant and his team to win several NASA technology awards, and an “R&D 100” award.

The unique feature of this compound is the way that it lends itself to easy processing. Most polyimides (members of a group of remarkably strong and incredibly heat- and chemical-resistant polymers) require complex curing cycles before they are usable. LaRC-SI remains soluble in its final form, so no further chemical processing is required to produce final materials, like thin films and varnishes. Since producing LaRC-SI does not require complex manufacturing techniques, it has been processed into useful forms for a variety of applications, including mechanical parts, magnetic components, ceramics, adhesives, composites, flexible circuits, multilayer printed circuits, and coatings on fiber optics, wires, and metals.

Thin metal lead wires use NASA-developed polymer insulation.
Medtronic’s cardiac resynchronization therapy devices use the NASA-developed polymer as insulation on thin metal lead wires.

Bryant’s team was, at the time, heavily involved with the aircraft polymer project and could not afford to further develop the polymer resin. Believing it was worth further exploration, though, he developed a plan for funding development and submitted it to Langley’s chief scientist, who endorsed the experimentation. Bryant then left the high-speed civil transport project to develop LaRC-SI. The result is an extremely tough, lightweight thermoplastic that is not only solvent-resistant, but also has the ability to withstand temperature ranges from cryogenic levels to above 200 °C. The thermoplastic’s unique characteristics lend it to many commercial applications; uses that Bryant believed would ultimately benefit industry and the Nation. “LaRC-SI,” he explains, “is a product created in a government laboratory, funded with money from the tax-paying public. What we discovered helps further the economic competitiveness of the United States, and it was our goal to initiate the technology transfer process to ensure that our work benefited the widest range of people.”

Several NASA centers, including Langley, have explored methods for using LaRC-SI in a number of applications from radiation shielding and as an adhesive to uses involving replacement of conventional rigid circuit boards. In the commercial realm, LaRC-SI can now be found in several commercial products, including the thin-layer composite unimorph ferroelectric driver and sensor (THUNDER) piezoelectric actuator, another “R&D 100” award winner (Spinoff 2005).

Partnership

Working with the Innovative Partnerships Program office at Langley, Medtronic Inc., of Minneapolis, Minnesota, licensed the material. This material has been evaluated for space applications, high-performance composites, and harsh environments; however, this partnership represents the first time that the material has been used in a medical device.

According to Bryant, “This partnership validates the belief we had that LaRC-SI needed to be introduced in (or by) the private sector: Lives can be saved and enhanced because we were able to develop our laboratory findings and provide public access to the material.”

Product Outcome

Chemical engineer Robert Bryant works with Langley Research Center’s Soluble Imide (LaRC-SI).
LaRC-SI is applied to another material in a laboratory.
LaRC-SI is an amorphous thermoplastic developed by Robert Bryant, a chemical engineer at Langley. LaRC-SI has excellent adhesive and dielectric properties and can be reformed at elevated temperature and pressures. It can be applied in the form of a spray, spin, dip coating, paint, or spread with a blade.

Medtronic is the world leader in medical technology providing lifelong solutions for people with chronic disease. It offers products, therapies, and services that enhance or extend the lives of millions of people. Each year, 6 million patients benefit from Medtronic’s technology, used to treat conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders, and vascular illnesses.

The company is testing the material for use as insulation on thin metal wires connected to its implantable cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices for patients experiencing heart failure, which resynchronize the contractions of the heart’s ventricles by sending tiny electrical impulses to the heart muscle, helping the heart pump blood throughout the body more efficiently.

“Our work with NASA Langley was very collaborative,” said Lonny Stormo, Medtronic vice president of therapy delivery research and development. “Our scientists discussed Medtronic’s material requirements and NASA shared what it knows about the compound’s properties as we continued our testing and evaluations.”

In March 2007, Medtronic conducted the first clinical implants in the United States and Canada of the Medtronic over-the-wire lead (Model 4196), a dual-electrode left ventricular (LV) lead for use in heart failure patients with cardiac resynchronization therapy devices.

“Through this partnership, Medtronic was able to deliver a product with enhanced material properties,” said Stormo. “In turn this helps our patients, which is the core of Medtronic’s mission.”

Placing a lead in the LV is widely recognized by physicians as the most challenging aspect of implanting CRT devices. Anatomic challenges can make it difficult to access and work within the coronary sinus to place a lead in the desired vein of the LV. The lead is specially designed for optimal tracking over a guide wire, which is intended to allow physicians greater ability to deliver the left heart lead in difficult-to-access veins.

Once implanted in the LV, two electrodes located at the tip of the lead provide physicians with options to tailor delivery of stimulation for each patient. When approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the lead is expected to be the smallest LV lead in the U.S. market.

[Source]

NASA Bioreactors Advance Disease Treatments

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution

The International Space Station (ISS) is falling. This is no threat to the astronauts onboard, however, because falling is part of the ISS staying in orbit.

The absence of gravity beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is actually an illusion; at the ISS’s orbital altitude of approximately 250 miles above the surface, the planet’s gravitational pull is only 12-percent weaker than on the ground. Gravity is constantly pulling the ISS back to Earth, but the space station is also constantly traveling at nearly 18,000 miles per hour. This means that, even though the ISS is falling toward Earth, it is moving sideways fast enough to continually miss impacting the planet. The balance between the force of gravity and the ISS’s motion creates a stable orbit, and the fact that the ISS and everything in it—including the astronauts—are falling at an equal rate creates the condition of weightlessness called microgravity.

A spherical cell appears next to an amorphous cell.

Cells grown in microgravity (A) tend to become more spherical than those grown on Earth (B). This demonstrates that tissues can grow and differentiate into distinct structures in microgravity. NASA’s rotating wall bioreactor simulates weightlessness to mimic this effect on Earth.

The constant falling of objects in orbit is not only an important principle in space, but it is also a key element of a revolutionary NASA technology here on Earth that may soon help cure medical ailments from heart disease to diabetes.

In the mid-1980s, NASA researchers at Johnson Space Center were investigating the effects of long-term microgravity on human tissues. At the time, the Agency’s shuttle fleet was grounded following the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and researchers had no access to the microgravity conditions of space. To provide a method for recreating such conditions on Earth, Johnson’s David Wolf, Tinh Trinh, and Ray Schwarz developed that same year a horizontal, rotating device—called a rotating wall bioreactor—that allowed the growth of human cells in simulated weightlessness. Previously, cell cultures on Earth could only be grown two-dimensionally in Petri dishes, because gravity would cause the multiplying cells to sink within their growth medium. These cells do not look or function like real human cells, which grow three-dimensionally in the body. Experiments conducted by Johnson scientist Dr. Thomas Goodwin proved that the NASA bioreactor could successfully cultivate cells using simulated microgravity, resulting in three-dimensional tissues that more closely approximate those in the body. Further experiments conducted on space shuttle missions and by Wolf as an astronaut on the Mir space station demonstrated that the bioreactor’s effects were even further expanded in space, resulting in remarkable levels of tissue formation.

While the bioreactor may one day culture red blood cells for injured astronauts or single-celled organisms like algae as food or oxygen producers for a Mars colony, the technology’s cell growth capability offers significant opportunities for terrestrial medical research right now. A small Texas company is taking advantage of the NASA technology to advance promising treatment applications for diseases both common and obscure.

Partnership

In 2002, Houston-based biotechnology firm Regenetech Inc. (then called BioCell Innovations) acquired the licenses for the NASA bioreactor and a number of related patents for use in the burgeoning field of adult stem cell research. (Unlike ethically controversial embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells are harvested from sources such as blood and bone marrow.) Employing a novel business model that takes advantage of sponsored research agreements with major medical institutions like the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Regenetech was able to begin testing and adapting the bioreactor’s capabilities for use with human stem cells with a first year budget of only $100,000. A NASA Space Act Agreement that saw the company share resources with Goodwin at Johnson, as well as additional licensing agreements between the company and the Agency, enabled Regenetech to further complement the bioreactor with its own proprietary improvements.

Product Outcome

Regenetech has built upon its licensed NASA technology to create a thriving intellectual property business that is providing researchers with the tools to make adult stem cell therapy viable for the public.

Adult stem cells are found in some types of body tissue. These cells are multipotent, meaning they can differentiate into a specific range of specialized cells. This makes them appealing possibilities for treating diseases—the stem cells differentiate into healthy replacements for sick or damaged cells. Blood stem cells, for example, can transform into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets; these cells could provide a potential treatment for blood diseases like sickle cell anemia.

One of the richest sources of adult stem cells is bone marrow.

“There are about 70 different conditions and diseases where bone marrow stem cells have been used to regenerate tissue or treat disease,” says Donnie Rudd, Regenetech’s chief scientist and director of intellectual property. Stem cells can be harvested from a patient’s bone marrow through a procedure called bone marrow apheresis—a process that like any medical procedure carries some level of risk. The problem with alternative methods of adult stem cell harvest is getting enough of the cells to have therapeutic value, which is where Regenetech’s Intrifuge cellXpansion technology comes to bear.

Two scientists examine a bioreactor.

Regenetech scientists examine the company’s bioreactors. Licensed from NASA, the bioreactor technology allows for rapid, healthy cell growth, providing for a quicker, cheaper source of adult stem cells for therapy and medical research.

“We can take a sample of peripheral blood from a patient’s arm, separate the stem cells, put that into our improved NASA bioreactor, and then multiply the cells to a therapeutic level without all the trauma of bone marrow apheresis,” says Rudd.

Regenetech’s Intrifuge rotating wall bioreactor cradles a soup can-sized, rotating chamber that is used to expand, or multiply, harvested stem cells. The cell sample, contained in a growth fluid, is placed in the rotating chamber equipped with a membrane for oxygenation and gas exchange. As the chamber rotates, the cells are suspended in a constant state of falling—similar to an object in space orbit. This condition is enabled by a rotating inner wall that reduces shear from the nutrient fluid. In this simulated weightlessness, the cells do not get damaged and die from bouncing off the sides of the chamber. They multiply rapidly (50–200 times in size in as few as 6 days) into healthy populations, providing a quicker and cheaper source of stem cells for therapy or medical research. Regenetech’s cellXpansion process is being tested for further enhancement by a NASA-developed electromagnetic coil that surrounds the canister and which NASA developed to stimulate nerve cell growth. The coil, also patented by the NASA bioreactor development team and licensed by Regenetech, produces time varying electromagnetic conditions.

Regenetech started producing revenue only 5 years after its founding, and since acquiring the original NASA licenses, it has developed over 300 of its own patents and patent applications and has licensed out its technologies on a global scale. The company generates its revenue through research partnerships and licensing its patents to stem cell researchers in pursuit of treatments for everything from heart disease to diabetes to liver cirrhosis. It is currently engaged in sponsored research agreements with major universities to develop stem cell therapy for type 1 diabetes, study blood stem cells, and create stem cell veterinary orthopedic treatments using the company’s Intrifuge cellXpansion technology.

Through an agreement with NASA, Regenetech is also able to offer significant help to researchers pursuing treatments of rare diseases that affect less than 200,000 people in the United States and thus do not offer enough return on drug development investment. NASA allows the company to charge as little as $1,000 to $10,000 to license its NASA-developed technologies to researchers of such rare diseases.

“Our relationship with NASA has allowed us to get this technology out into the field for those diseases that otherwise might never be treated,” says Rudd.

Intrifuge™ and cellXpansion™ are trademarks of Regenetech Inc.

Sensors Provide Early Warning of Biological Threats

Originating Technology/NASA Contribution 

A postage stamp-size biosensor holding millions of carbon nanotubes
Containing millions of carbon nanotubes, the NASA biosensor can alert inspectors to minute amounts of potentially dangerous organic contaminants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are between 4 and 11 million cases of acute gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States each year—caused by pathogens in public drinking water. The bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella have within the past few years contaminated spinach and tomato supplies, leading to nationwide health scares. Elsewhere, waterborne diseases are devastating populations in developing countries like Zimbabwe, where a cholera epidemic erupted in 2008 and claimed over 4,000 lives.

Scientists have found an unexpected source of inspiration in the effort to prevent similar disasters: the search for life on Mars. The possibility of life on the Red Planet has been a subject of popular and scientific fascination since the 19th century. While Martian meteorites have turned up controversial hints of organic activity, and NASA’s exploratory efforts have delivered important discoveries related to potential life—the presence of water ice, and plumes of methane in Mars’s atmosphere—direct evidence of organisms on our closest planetary relative has yet to be found.

In order to help detect biological traces on Mars, scientists at Ames Research Center began work on an ultrasensitive biosensor in 2002. The chief components of the sensor are carbon nanotubes, which are the major focus of research at the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames—the U.S. Government’s largest nanotechnology research group and one of the largest in the world. Tubes of graphite about 1/50,000th the diameter of a human hair, carbon nanotubes can be grown up to several millimeters in length and display remarkable properties. They possess extreme tensile strength (the equivalent of a cable 1 millimeter in diameter supporting nearly 14,000 pounds) and are excellent conductors of heat and electricity.

It is the nanotubes’ electrical properties that Ames researchers employed in creating the biosensor. The sensor contains a bioreceptor made of nanotubes tipped with single strands of nucleic acid of waterborne pathogens, such as E. coli and Cryptosporidium. When the probe strand contacts a matching strand from the environment, it binds into a double helix, releasing a faint electrical charge that the nanotube conducts to the sensor’s transducer, signaling the presence of the specific pathogens found in the water. Because the sensor contains millions of nanotubes, it is highly sensitive to even minute amounts of its target substance. Tiny, requiring little energy and no laboratory expertise, the sensor is ideal for use in space and, as it turns out, on Earth as well.

Partnership

“Carbon nanotubes are the wonder material of nanotechnology,” says Neil Gordon, president of Early Warning Inc., based in Troy, New York. “The opportunity was ripe to put that technology into a product.” Gordon encountered the director of the Center for Nanotechnology, Meyya Meyyappan, at a number of industry conferences, and the two discussed the possible terrestrial applications of NASA’s biosensor. In 2007, Early Warning exclusively licensed the biosensor from Ames and entered into a Space Act Agreement to support further, joint development of the sensor through 2012.

Product Outcome

Early Warning initially developed a working version of the NASA biosensor calibrated to detect the bacteria strain E. coliO157:H7, known to cause acute gastrointestinal illness. It also detects indicator E. coli, commonly used in water testing. In the process, the company worked out a method for placing multiple sensors on a single wafer, allowing for mass production and cost-effective testing. In April, at the 2009 American Water Works Association “Water Security Congress,” Early Warning launched its commercial Biohazard Water Analyzer, which builds upon the licensed NASA biosensor and can be configured to test for a suite of waterborne pathogens including E. coliCryptosporidiumGiardia, and other bacteria, viruses, and parasitic protozoa. The analyzer uses a biomolecule concentrator—an Early Warning invention—to reduce a 10-liter water sample to 1 milliliter in about 45 minutes. The concentrated sample is then processed and fed to the biosensor. The entire process takes about 2 hours, a drastic improvement over typical laboratory-based water sampling, which can take several days to a week. The sensor operates in the field via a wired or wireless network and without the need for a laboratory or technicians, allowing for rapid, on-the-fly detection and treatment of potentially dangerous organic contaminants.

The Early Warning water analyzer
Early Warning’s analyzer feeds a concentrated water sample to its biosensor, providing rapid pathogen detection.

“The sensor is incredibly sensitive and specific to the type of pathogen it is calibrated to detect in the water,” says Gordon. “Instead of just detecting coliforms in the water that may or may not indicate the presence of pathogens, we will know if there are infectious strains of SalmonellaE. coli, or Giardia that could sicken or even kill vulnerable people if consumed.” (Coliform bacteria levels typically indicate water and food sanitation quality.)

The water analyzer has multiple applications, notes Gordon. Early Warning’s system can monitor recreational water quality at beaches and lakes, which can be contaminated by animal feces, farming activities, and infectious pathogens in human waste. Agricultural companies may use the analyzer to test feed water for cattle, and food and beverage companies may employ the sensor to ensure the purity of water used in their products. Health care organizations have expressed interest in using the analyzer to test water from showers and other potential sources of pathogens like Legionella, which causes the flu-like Legionnaires’ disease.

Early Warning and Kansas State University, in Manhattan, Kansas, are collaborating on sensor enhancements such as improving the safety of imported produce. Since the skins of fruits and vegetables are potential sites of dangerous pathogens, inspectors could collect water sprayed on the produce and, using the analyzer, know within a few hours whether a particular shipment is contaminated. Last year, Kansas State was selected as the home for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which could also benefit Early Warning.

“We’re eager to show how the private sector, government agencies, and academia can work together to evolve this platform into products that benefit our citizens,” says Gordon. With an aging U.S. water and wastewater infrastructure, increasingly severe weather systems, global travel and food imports affecting the proliferation of disease-causing organisms, and more than 1 billion people worldwide without access to safe water (according to the World Health Organization), the fruits of this partnership may be more necessary than ever.