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  • NASA Institute Awarded to U Michigan
Apr 2004
ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 8 -- NASA has named the University of Michigan (UM) as the sole recipient of the new NASA BioScience and Engineering Institute (NBEI), with a goal to "develop a new generation of space bioengineers identifying the bioengineering technologies of the future."

The $6.4 million, interdisciplinary award spans a five-year period and may be extended for another five years.

Institute faculty will conduct research in four areas: tissue bioscience and engineering, transport phenomena in biology and devices, molecular biophysics and bioengineering, and bioMEMS and biomaterials. The institute also will include a curriculum component.

The bioMEMS and biomaterials theme will focus on the design and evaluation of a novel type of minimally invasive medical device for integrated physiological and environmental sensing. The long-term goal is to develop a "skin-patch" type of polymer integrated microsystem that has an interface to the body for physiological sensing (e.g., biopotentials) and an interface to the external environment for environmental monitoring (e.g., air quality).

Monitoring the outcomes of specific biochemical reactions will help NASA in its search for the possibility of life on other planets. Molecular nanosystems will monitor astronaut radiation exposure using noninvasive optical probes through the eye.

Researchers in the transport phenomena research component will study how the brain and lungs of astronauts function in space. One project will simulate neural and neurovascular changes to examine the effects of blood flow inside and outside the brain. Liquid ventilation -- "breathable fluids" -- will provide an Earth-based model to determine the effects of zero gravity on astronaut lung function. Also, DNA "lab on a chip" devices pioneered at UM in the late 1990s are helping to analyze molecular and cellular substances in saliva for health monitoring of astronauts.

Tissue bioscience and engineering projects will explore the impacts of weightlessness on astronauts' bone and muscle, two areas where astronaut physiology is significantly challenged. Researchers hope to deliver locally a hormone to counter the loss of bone in space, and will examine the influence of physical forces on bone structure. Another project will examine how hind limb "unweighting" affects muscle function.

The institute will be under the auspices of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

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