Gizmodo has published a fascinating piece on a newly developed NASA Biocapsule that is meant to diagnose and treat future astronauts in space for a variety of ailments, such as radiation exposure – a problem NASA will have to overcome in order to successfully complete any manned missions beyond low Earth orbit. NASA’s replacement for the space shuttle, the SLS, intends to do just that, sending our astronauts back to the moon, asteroids, and eventually Mars.
The capsule, developed by the Space Biosciences Division at NASA AMES Research Center in CA, will be implanted under an astronaut’s skin before launch. Made of carbon nanotubes, these capsules are filled with cells that release medicine when a certain trigger activates them – such as increased levels of radiation.
Not only is the technology an answer to not having a hospital to visit in space, the capsules are capable of working for years, delivering multiple doses for a variety of conditions over the course of a long-duration space mission. With no known enzyme capable of breaking down their nanostructure, the capsules can remain in the body – with no adverse affects – until a doctor can physically remove them once the crew is safely back on Earth.
Inexpensive and easy to make, these biocapsules could eventually change the face of medicine forever. Different capsules can be created for different threats, with unique triggers and treatments for each. The applications for treatments of a variety of ailments here on Earth are vast.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJMF8qcRPFU
Video Credit: Gizmodo
Imagine the millions of diabetics around the world never needing another shot, never needing to monitor their blood sugar levels. They would never again have to wake up throughout the night to monitor their levels because these capsules work automatically. Dr. David Loftus, who invented the NASA Biocapsule and has since been awarded a patent for it, put it this way:
“The capsule would contain pancreatic islet cells (from animals) or would contain engineered cells designed to behave like pancreatic islet cells, with body glucose-sensing and insulin secretion function. Patients with low-insulin requirement might benefit from implantation of a single capsule (containing perhaps a million to 10 million cells); patients with higher insulin requirement might require implantation of more than one capsule.”
Other applications here on Earth include a capsule that can be implanted into a tumor to deliver high doses of chemotherapy directly to the specific area needing the treatment in cancer patients. Other applications could be treatments for severe allergy sufferers, eliminating the need to carry shots of epinephrine should they come into contact with whatever it is that would cause them an allergic reaction.
Yet another possible application for those of us here on Earth could be for individuals who need regular gene therapy, using capsules to deliver treatments for those who need regular injections.
“Some children are born missing a gene, or are born with a defective gene. As a result, they can’t make a needed protein,” said Dr. Loftus. “Hemophilia is a classic example. These patients are missing an important blood coagulation protein. The biocapsule could be used to implant cells that are engineered to release the missing protein. Successful therapy would mean that the patients are spared the need to receive periodic injections. Patients would be safely protected by the protein released from the capsule, and they would be able to lead more normal lives.”
The applications here on Earth are seemingly endless. The technology is of course being developed to keep our astronauts healthy on their long term space missions, probably starting with astronauts living aboard the International Space Station later this decade. That being said, it is very possible that this technology could see widespread use on Earth in the next 10-15 years.
NASA’s Biocapsule technology is still early in its development; the first animal trials will begin later this year – with human trials beginning shortly after.
Visit Gizmodo for the full story of their visit to the Space Biosciences Division at NASA Ames Research Center in CA.Missions » ISS »