The weakening of load-bearing bones due to resorption is one of the major concerns of prolonged exposure to microgravity. We lack both an understanding of and a way to measure the more specific biomechanical changes at work. Because of the limited medical capabilities on a spacecraft or at any remote landing site, there is clearly the need for additional diagnostic tools that are portable, reliable, and easy to use by a person with a minimal medical background. Vibrational analysis (structural dynamics) appears to be a very promising avenue for investigation. The frequency response of bone theoretically contains far more information about the structural properties than conventional imaging techniques, which can only examine the apparent properties of bone. Under laboratory conditions, a hand-held acoustic device has been developed at Rice University.
This award winning prototype, dubbed Osteosonic, won the 2003 "Create the Future" design contest sponsored by NASA Tech Briefs and Emhart Teknologies and is currently being tested on human subjects at Rice University. The objective of this experiment was to test the portable device for non-invasive evaluation of bone quality in the space flight analog provided by Aquarius.
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Prior to the mission, two crewmembers received training on how to operate the Osteosonic. During the mission, a team of two crewmembers used the Osteosonic to become familiar with the hardware and software every other day throughout the duration of the mission. At some time at the end of the mission, one crewmember was given simulated symptoms indicative of a bony fracture. A trained crewmember, following the instructions of the Principal Investigator (PI) in the Experimental Planning and Operations Center (ExPOC), attempted to manipulate the Osteosonic device in such a manner that allowed the PI to diagnose the bone condition. The quality of training received, the ease-of-use of the acoustic probe and its procedures, and the ability to communicate successfully with the PI from the remote environment were evaluated during this experiment.
NEEMO 6 Crewmember feedback was positive and provided valuable information to the Rice University team. Rice University added wrist, elbow, and spine data to their baseline database collection.