Photonics Handbook3 Questions

Three Questions with Courtney Schkurko

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BioPhotonics spoke with Courtney Schkurko, engineering project manager at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, who specializes in spaceflight exploration medical technology development and demonstrations. She has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Ohio Northern University. NASA recently tested the Reusable Handheld Electrolyte and Laboratory Technology for Humans (rHEALTH) ONE biomedical analyzer, which uses laser technology to diagnose illness or injury in personnel in space.

The biomedical device in question uses lasers integrated into a miniature flow cytometer to monitor body fluid content. What types of conditions would this be instrumental in finding?

The rHEALTH ONE device is a prototype that utilizes some flow cytometry techniques, but through miniaturization efforts does not have the full capabilities of a traditional flow cytometer. NASA has identified point-of-care medical diagnostic technology as a critical need for future human space exploration to enable diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of spaceflight medical conditions. Similar to blood tests or lab analyses you may experience on Earth, the results of these tests conducted in spaceflight can be critical in confirming a diagnosis or developing a treatment plan. For example, a standard white blood cell differential could be used to monitor infection, or a troponin test may be used to diagnose a heart attack.

What types of tests was the device put through? What modifications would need to be made for utilization in space as opposed to an Earth-bound clinic?

NASA’s testing efforts on the rHEALTH ONE focused predominantly on safety. Each research payload is individually assessed for safe operation in the unique environment found on the International Space Station. For the rHEALTH ONE, this included evaluation of materials (e.g., toxicity, flammability, and release of particulates), electrical systems (e.g., shock hazards), noise produced (e.g., auditory and electromagnetic), light produced (e.g., laser radiation), and software. Environmental tests, like shock and vibration testing as an example, are performed to verify the device will survive launch vibrations in a safe state for the crew to handle. For science objectives, the function and performance of the device were evaluated in both nominal and off-nominal operational scenarios to better understand how the device may fail and what types of procedures would be needed to ensure optimal results or reset to normal operations.

As a result of testing, several modifications were made to the rHEALTH ONE analyzer for safe operation by crew members in microgravity. The original rHEALTH ONE analyzer design uses bottles dependent on gravity to separate the air and liquid pathways. Because fluids behave very differently in micro-gravity, a special microtubing assembly with self-sealing connectors and durable medical balloons had to be used to keep the liquids contained. NASA engineers also added copper tape to reduce electromagnetic interference, secured connections against vibration to prevent leaks, and sealed gaps to contain the glass and laser light within the optical block.

Are there hurdles that remain before it is widely used in space?

The rHEALTH ONE flight demonstration aboard the International Space Station (ISS) was conducted as a research experiment under NASA’s Human Research Program to evaluate the device’s functionality and performance in space against the performance and expected results demonstrated on the ground. The ISS experiment used control samples to evaluate device performance. Along with enhancements to the software and fluid management system, repeatable and accurate performance on biological samples would need to be demonstrated.

Innovative technologies that are successfully demonstrated and identified as candidates for operational use aboard the Space Station must then complete a thorough transition to the operations review process to evaluate the effectiveness and readiness of the products and/or procedures. The review process applies to newly proposed procedures, practices, countermeasures, or technologies resulting from NASA-sponsored research related to human health, human performance, and medical technologies.

Published: January 2024
A laser, which stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation," is a device that produces coherent and focused beams of light through the process of optical amplification based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Key features of lasers include: Stimulated emission: The operation of a laser is based on stimulated emission, a quantum phenomenon where atoms or molecules in an excited state release photons when they encounter other photons. This process leads to...
flow cytometry
Flow cytometry is a powerful technique used in biology and medicine for the quantitative analysis of the physical and chemical characteristics of cells and particles suspended in a fluid. The method allows for the rapid measurement of multiple parameters simultaneously on a cell-by-cell basis. It is widely used in various fields, including immunology, microbiology, hematology, and cancer research. Here are the key components and features of flow cytometry: Sample preparation: Cells or...
3 QuestionsCourtney SchkurkoNASArHEALTH ONElaserflow cytometrymicrogravityInternational Space Station

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