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Space technology and medicine

Space technologies find their place in healthcare applications. (An SPIE Professional article.)

20 April 2017, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2201704.04

Throughout history, scientific progress has depended on discoveries of new ways of seeing. Astronomers and cosmologists have pioneered these conjoined paths of technological innovation and scientific discovery.

In Shouleh Nikzad's lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), researchers are developing advanced technologies and instrumentation for cosmology, astrophysics, and planetary science. These fields often pose the most stringent requirements on detectors.

What does space technology have to do with medicine? Many technologies originally developed for space applications have found their way into the consumer market. Infrared thermometers, workout machines, freeze-dried food, compact cameras in mobile phones, and cordless drills are just a few familiar examples.

Nevertheless, applying astrophysics technologies to medical applications may appear difficult at first, as the scales of time and space are vastly different in these disparate fields. That is to say, until we take a closer look by examining requirements of both fields and recognizing the synergies and opportunities for mutual growth.

Ultraviolet imaging is also used in medical applications to reveal disease, as in this image of cancerous brain tissue.

Ultraviolet imaging is also used in medical applications to reveal disease, as in this image of cancerous brain tissue.

The benefits between space technologies and medical applications go both ways.

A team from JPL and the Skull Base Institute led by JPL’s Harish Manohara originally developed MARVEL, a multiangle, rear-viewing endoscopic tool, for minimally invasive brain tumor removal. As described in "4-mm-diameter three-dimensional imaging endoscope with steerable camera for minimally invasive surgery (3-D-MARVEL)," in a special section of Neurophotonics, the tool has stereoscopic vision and fits within a small 4-mm-diameter tube.

A space application for the technology was soon realized. The MARVEL innovation can be used to verify the rock and soil samples collected by robots from planetary bodies, before the samples are returned to Earth.

cover of April 2017 SPIE Professional magazine

SPIE Fellow Shouleh Nikzad is senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In an article in the April 2017 issue of SPIE Professional, she discusses how space technologies are finding applications in healthcare.

Read the full article about space technology and medicine in SPIE Professional.