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GE Sends Scanner to Space to Study Astronaut Healthcare Conditions

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The ISS astronauts were provided with training in order to use the Vivid q Scanner. 

Living in space sounds like the most exciting thing ever – and it really is. Astronauts experience weightlessness and look through a window pane at our planet every day. Space missions are the result of decades of technological advances which allowed man to go further than ever before and experience extreme new environments.

Astronauts adapt surprisingly well to a zero-gravity environment – but they are exposed to elements that could make them lose bone mass, develop cardiovascular problems and could lead to major health problems when they return to Earth.

To study some of the causes of the ailments that affect astronauts, NASA is developing the new Human Research Program (HRP) that will analyze the effects of space travel on astronauts’ bodies. NASA wants to detect potential problems and try to prevent them, as well as improving quality of life for astronauts in the International Space Station (ISS).

GE Healthcare breaks the space barrier with Vivid q Scanner

In 2010, NASA approached GE to ask them to support and be involved in their new program. NASA wanted to scan astronauts regularly and try to determine when deteriorations started to appear, under what circumstances and whether cardiovascular exercise could help to prevent their onset.

In order to do this, GE adapted the Vivid q so that it was ready to use in the ISS. GE’s Vivid q is a compact ultrasound system, which is roughly the size of a laptop and can provide clinical data and high-quality heart images that are crucial in understanding how the heart and its individual valves are functioning. The Vivid q passed NASA’s rigorous testing procedures. All the printed boards were coated with aerospace grade conformal coating material to meet aerospace needs and the system was protected against radiation because in space there is no Ozone layer to protect it.  Ilan Lifshitz General Manager of Ultrasound for GE Healthcare in Israel, said “the system was designed from day 1 to be serviceable and very reliable.”

GE trained a NASA team in their facilities, and maintained contact throughout every test to help ensure that the procedure was flawless. The Vivid q equipment was ready and delivered to the ISS on board the Atlantis STS-135 last shuttle flight on July, 8 2011.

A scanner in space

NASA’s HRP will examine the decrease in size of the heart muscle associated with long term flights, evaluate the use of cardiovascular training in the ISS crew during long term missions and look at the changes in blood vessel walls before and after exposure to microgravity. The extraordinary thing is that results from this study might also be applicable to people who suffer similar conditions on Earth.

The GE Healthcare team is excited about healthcare potential in space, and has been inspired by this contribution. “Our goal with the Vivid q has always been to provide excellent imaging capabilities, portability and ease-of-use, so it is particularly encouraging to see that these aspects of the system are valuable to the research crew on the International Space Station,” said Liftshitz. “It is an honor for GE to have our technology recognized and to be involved with this cutting-edge program being conducted by NASA .”

The combination of miniaturization and high cardiovascular ultrasound performance has allowed the Vivid q to be used at events ranging from the Vancouver Winter Olympics to expeditions to the Himalaya Mountains.  Furthermore, this technology has enabled leading medical team missions from hospitals worldwide to remote villages, like the Save a Child's Heart Organization, which is using Vivid i systems to evaluate cardiac risks for children in Africa. 

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The Vivid q scanner has a user-friendly interface that provides high-definition imaging on screen.