LifeGuard boosts health telemetry

NASA officials may be able to improve the way they monitor space travelers' vital signs after further development of a wireless device. So far, the tool is being used to transmit personal health information from remote locations on Earth.

Last year, NASA's real-time monitoring device, LifeGuard, helped monitor the vital signs of expedition members at the world's highest alpine lake, nearly 20,000 feet up the Licancabur volcano. The members of the expedition were sampling soils and water on the border of Chile and Bolivia last year.

"LifeGuard also could be used by physicians on Earth, since the system could be put on a patient very quickly and transmit vital signs during transfer to the hospital," said Carsten Mundt, an engineer at NASA's Ames Research Center. "The sensors we use are quite easy to apply and comfortable to wear."

Firefighters, hazardous material workers, the elderly and patients at home could benefit from remote monitoring, Mundt said. "When the patient comes in, the doctor would already know [their] status," he added.

Although NASA has had forms of health telemetry for decades, the agency has never been able to do as much as the Lifeguard system, said John Hines, manager of advanced biomolecular technology at Ames.

LifeGuard provides real-time monitoring of vital information, including heart rate, blood pressure, electrocardiogram, breathing rate and temperature. It also can measure human movements in three dimensions.

The LifeGuard units send real-time vital signs from subjects to scientists at Ames via satellite. LifeGuard uses button sensors stuck to the skin of index fingers and arm cuffs to measure blood pressure. LifeGuard's data logger has a transmitter that radios collected data to a base station computer.

"More recently, we did experiments aboard NASA's KC-135 aircraft that flies big, roller coaster-like maneuvers to create short periods of weightlessness," said Gregory Kovacs of Stanford University. The Astrobionics team at NASA began work on LifeGuard in October 2002, and is collaborating with the National Center for Space Biological Technologies at Stanford.

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