Complete Take-Off – The Rise of Space Medicine

19. February 2008

Pollings in Japan, Germany and the US document that nearly 60 percent of the age under 50 would travel into space. If space tourism is supposed to work out, medicine has to react now: Space-Docs are working worldwide in research - with impressive results - often generating completely earthly results.

Not just physicians remember the 11th DLR-parabolic flight campaign November 20th – 30th last year. Under the cryptic name "Zero-G", a team of researcher together with Hanns-Christian Gunga, Professor at the Institut für Physiologie an der Charité Berlin/Germany and spokesman of the Center for Space Medicine, wanted to find out about the influence of short-term real microgravitation on the human organism on board of an Airbus A-300. The team used a non-invasive sensor measuring system recording not only changes in the thermoregulation of the body, but also data of the cardiac circulatory system. Three flight days and 30 microgravitation parables later the six test persons had completed their medical mission for mankind. As early as April 2008 the measuring will continue plus an experiment of the Institut für Klinische Pharmakologie und Toxikologie der Charité is planned for this year.

60 days compulsory break

Those experiments are indeed routine in space medicine. This field enjoys a growing popularity – not just for freaks. A little while ago, the Berliner Charité was looking for "test persons in the Berlin and Brandenburg area" willing to spend a full 60 days in bed – against cash. The cash till keeps ringing in service of the Center for Muscle- and Bone Research (ZMK) at the Charité- Universitätsmedizin Berlin on Benjamin Franklin Campus within the so-called second Berlin BedRest Studie (BBR 2). And the project initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Deutschen Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) again is part of the space program for preparation of the flights to Mars in 2027.

It is common knowledge that bones and muscles catabolise in zero gravity. But with the start into the new millennium, space researchers seem to discover the potential of down-to-earth clinical research all over again. The prescribed 60-days bed rest was supposed to simulate the same zero gravity which in the long run causes the slacking of muscles of cosmonauts in space. A special vibration training device – the Space – Galileo – is supposed to stop the reduction of muscles, but: What do earthly physicians get out of those "outer space" findings?

"The results of the study are to bring answers for diseases here on earth as well, such as diabetes, chronic back pains, osteoporosis and muscle weakness", as the Charité explains the necessity of the spacy research approaches in May 2007 – and is right!

Legs first

Because the test results and developments of space research bring along a concrete profit for physicians and medical technology engineers on the Blue Planet as well. For example the Institut für Biomedizinische Probleme (IMBP) developed the rehabilitation suit "Regent". The blue textile is a "mixture between sports outfit, hot pants and climbing harness stuff" as the ESA described it during the introduction of this novelty during MEDICA 2005. The show-stopper: The garment developed by IMBP can be utilized for patients with epilepsy, Parkinson and apoplexy.

Five years ago a development of the Weyergans High Care AG located in Düren caused quite a stir as well. This company specializing in futuristic therapies presented a "vascular pump against circulatory disorders and venous congestions in the legs".
The patient is placed "in the treatment tube all the way to his abdomen" during this therapy form. "Afterwards, the lower extremities are treated by turns with pressure and depression – the vascular pump works like an "external heart" for the lower half of the body", rhapsodize the medical engineers. Indeed – not only did the therapy results show a much better blood circulation – venous caused tumescences and varicose veins regressed.

The physician Siegfried Schink at the Rehabilitationsklinik Fallingbostel shows that most of all, physicians benefit in their every day"s work from space know how: More than 100 patients with circulatory disorders went legs first into a tube which produces depression and regular pressure in rhythmic intervals. Astonishing effect of the method originating from space medicine: Circulation as well as blood flow of the test persons increased – for diabetic patients here on Mother Earth the method seems to be just the right thing.

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