Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team

About the Team

smart-medicalSince astronauts on long-duration missions will not be able to return quickly to Earth, new methods of remote medical diagnosis, monitoring and treatment are necessary. During long-duration space exploration missions, it is also possible that medical procedures may have to be performed by a non-physician astronaut.

The goal for the Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team is the development of intelligent, integrated medical systems to assist in delivering quality health care during spaceflight and exploration. These systems must be small, low-power, noninvasive, versatile and highly automated. Possible technologies needed include ultrasound diagnostics and therapeutics, lab-on-a-chip systems, patient and health physiologic monitors, and automated systems and devices to aid in decision-making, training and diagnosis. New technologies developed by this Team will have immediate benefits to medical care on Earth, especially in remote locations such as Antarctica.


Team Leader:
Gary E. Strangman, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School-Massachusetts General Hospital

Associate Team Leader:
Aaron Dentinger, Ph.D.
General Electric Company

Impact in Space

The Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team’s principal goal is to develop medical care systems that would assist in the diagnosis and treatment of major illnesses and trauma, as well as to provide sensors and data systems for in-flight monitoring and early detection of medical problems during flight and on planetary surfaces. A secondary goal is to provide novel training tools and modalities for crews to address medical issues when contact with Earth is limited or delayed.

The Team’s anticipated deliverables for spaceflight include:

  • Just-in-time training of International Space Station personnel to perform complex ultrasound diagnostic testing;
  • An ultrasound-based, acoustic densitometer for real-time assessment of bone quality and density, and an image-guided therapeutic system for assessing fracture risk and accelerating healing;
  • An onboard catalog of ultrasound images of internal organs under microgravity conditions;
  • A therapeutic ultrasound device with the capability to treat a variety of conditions, such as uncontrolled internal bleeding and kidney-stone-induced obstruction;
  • Integration of a robust mobile database with portable, lightweight medical systems to care for critically ill patients;
  • Novel technology development to reduce the size of spaceflight medical oxygen concentrators;
  • A lab-on-a-chip system for in-flight measurement of blood samples to determine the number of white blood cells and the percentage of each type of white blood cell; and
  • A noninvasive sensor system to measure muscle metabolic parameters to diagnose trauma, assess astronaut fitness and provide real-time metabolic rate monitoring during surface exploration or spacewalks.

Impact on Earth

Much of the technology developed by the Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team has direct benefits for health care on Earth. Some of the locations that will benefit from this research include emergency rooms, rural medical facilities, the battlefield and accident scenes. The Team’s research has applications for Earth use in the following ways:

  • Training techniques employed for crew medical officers have relevance for preparing military medics and civilian emergency personnel to respond to emergencies on Earth;
  • Acoustic bone densitometry will allow physicians to monitor osteoporosis patients with highly detailed images and provide ultrasonic treatment that will help accelerate fracture healing;
  • Educational methodologies developed for telemedicine applications on the International Space Station have significant Earth benefits to teach non-expert operators complex medical procedures;
  • Lab-on-a-chip devices will have wide application in clinical medicine where currently bedside analysis is not available; and
  • Technologies developed for trauma diagnosis and response, such as the noninvasive metabolic monitor and high-intensity focused ultrasound, have use for battlefield medical care, in ambulances and hospital emergency rooms.