Canada is leading the way on health care for astronauts — to be used here on Earth, too


As people as soon as once more start our foray again to the moon, there are some very severe questions on how to guarantee we will accomplish that safely. 

After all, area is harmful. Very harmful. There’s the menace your rocket might blow up, or there might be an issue together with your spacecraft. There’s additionally a threat of area particles or meteoroids. 

But the greatest menace is to our health. 

Our our bodies have been designed for Earth: its gravity, its air, its ambiance. There’s none of that in area, plus lethal area radiation to contemplate.

And then there’s simply on a regular basis health issues.

That’s why the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is working to develop know-how to be used in area to assist astronauts keep as secure as they presumably can as a part of its Health Beyond Initiative. But the bonus? That know-how is first being developed for these of us dwelling here on Earth.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield performs a health analysis whereas on board the International Space Station in 2012. (NASA)

One of the initiatives by the CSA is being finished along with Impact Canada (a government-wide effort to fund innovation). Called the Deep Space Healthcare Challenge, it is a contest open to firms who need to develop new diagnostic and detection applied sciences that can be used in distant communities in Canada and for astronauts as they head out on deep area missions to the moon and ultimately, Mars.

“We’re considering of when astronauts spend an extended time frame on the moon and prepare to go to Mars they’ll want to improve their capability to take care of their very own health, to be self-reliant, when it comes to health care,” mentioned Annie Martin, the Health Beyond portfolio supervisor at the CSA. 

“But as we prepare for these missions, we’re wanting to apply what we’re studying, what we’re growing for Canadians, enhancing entry to health care, and extra particularly, we consider medically secluded communities. So, communities in the north, rural areas, Indigenous communities, navy deployment, catastrophe administration, rescue groups, and so on.”

Some folks may surprise about what area exploration does for us here at house, however there are quite a few issues which have come out of people dwelling and dealing in area — what area businesses name spin-offs. Some extra notable ones embrace heart-rate screens, sensors used in DSLR cameras, a bone analyzer used to monitor these with osteoporosis and issues like recollection foam and cordless vacuums.

Even the know-how for the Canadarm is used in mind, coronary heart and spinal surgical procedures.

Similar challenges, related options

However, this time the CSA is doing it the different way round. Instead of one thing being invented for use in area, the CSA and Impact Canada are wanting for know-how that may be used to serve Canadians however that may additionally be used in area for astronauts.

This turned extra urgent after Canada agreed to assist construct the Lunar Gateway, an area station that can orbit the moon, and extra so when Canada signed on to the Artemis Accords, which is the settlement to take part in our return to the moon, Mars and ultimately past.

This illustration envisions what the Lunar Gateway area station will appear to be, together with Canadarm3, offered by MDA, primarily based out of Brampton, Ont. (MDA)

With that in thoughts, in 2021, the Deep Space Healthcare Challenge was launched. 

There are three phases to the problem earlier than the closing $500,000 award. Already 20 firms have made it to Stage 2.

Some Stage 1 finalists embrace analysis from McMaster University, Université de Montréal and a number of other unbiased firms from throughout the nation.

Innovations proposed embrace a hands-free automated ultrasound machine, by Sonoscope Inc. out of Longueuil, Que.; an ultralight MRI by Pelican MRI out of Saskatoon; and a man-made intelligence-powered digital medical assistant by ADGA Group Consultants Inc. out of Ottawa.

Canadian astronaut Dr. David Saint-Jacques is a part of the jury with Impact Canada. He’s no stranger to both distant health care or dwelling in area. He spent 204 days aboard the ISS from Dec. 3, 2018 to June 24, 2019, the longest of any Canadian. 

But earlier than he was an astronaut, he was a physician and the co-chief of drugs at Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq, Nunavik, an Inuit group on Hudson Bay. 

While he was on the ISS, he wore a shirt known as Bio-Monitor that retains observe of significant indicators like coronary heart price, respiration, pores and skin temperature and extra. It’s an instance of one thing he thinks might be used in distant communities.

Saint-Jacques tries the Bio-Monitor, a brand new Canadian know-how, for the first time in area in 2019. The progressive sensible shirt system is designed to measure and report astronauts’ important indicators. (CSA/NASA)

“Imagine an elder with dangerous persistent lung illness. Maybe you’ll be able to see early indicators earlier than he actually crashes and desires to be evacuated,” Saint-Jacques mentioned.

“Maybe we might help him out with antibiotics earlier than … there begins to be some indicators of extra fast respiration, for instance. So this is all blue-sky dreaming, but it surely is hanging to me how a lot in frequent the observe of drugs in a distant space and in area have as a result of it is mainly the similar issues of lengthy distance, lack of apparatus, lack of specialised personnel, communication delays.”

Similar challenges imply related options, he mentioned.

Being a world chief

Dr. Farhan Asrar is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s college of drugs, however he additionally has a eager curiosity in how know-how used in area can profit us here on Earth. Most lately he revealed an article in the journal Canadian Family Physician co-authored by Saint-Jacques and former Canadian astronaut and physician Dave Williams. 

“People won’t understand that trendy telemedicine, the origins are mainly primarily based with the area packages and businesses connecting with astronauts,” Asrar mentioned. “We’ve been utilizing totally different variations of digital care and distant drugs, even proper now, when there was an entire lockdown going on.”

And he believes that Canada, with its small funds and smaller inhabitants in contrast to the U.S., holds its personal when it comes to offering health care in area.

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques handles the Bio-Analyzer whereas on board the area station in 2019. The Bio-Analyzer supplies blood take a look at outcomes inside two to three hours. In the future, the Canadian know-how might additionally assist monitor astronauts’ health all through their missions on board the station. (CSA/NASA)

“I feel what I actually admire, the Canadian Space Agency as an entire, they’ve type of checked out … what is the experience that we will nonetheless be a world chief, and actually type of focus on it or concentrate on these particular areas,” he mentioned.

That experience contains astronaut-physician leaders like Dr. Bob Thirsk, Williams, Saint-Jacques and neurologist Dr. Roberta Bondar, Asrar famous.

“The management that they’ve taken on at a world degree, I’d say it is positively one thing that Canada has been taking part in inside the realm of health care and area.”

The CSA is holding its 2022 Health Beyond Summit from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 to spotlight the work to put Canada at the forefront of not solely deep area health care, but in addition in offering health care to distant communities. 

Health Beyond’s portfolio supervisor Martin mentioned that the future seems to be brilliant for Canadian innovation and the way forward for healthcare, each in area and on the terra firma.

“Space exploration is definitely a driver for inspiration, inspiring the subsequent technology and this concept to discover additional to see what we do not know,” the CSA’s Martin mentioned.

“We’re explorers … however as we’re exploring that unknown, and the place we will prolong our presence in the universe, we want to guarantee the security of these explorers. And by doing that, we’re advancing applied sciences which have speedy profit on Earth.”


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