Astronauts are at an increased risk of forming kidney stones because of dehydration and altered bone metabolism. A stone, while innocuous in the kidney, will often pass spontaneously causing debilitating pain that will affect mission operations. Even worse, large stones can become obstructing when they attempt to pass, resulting in a serious infection or even death without surgical intervention. The goal of this proposal is to develop an ultrasound imaging protocol to detect stones before they become dangerous. Early detection will allow for planned intervention through the administration of stone-dissolving medications, scheduled transport to Earth, or an ultrasound-based stone pushing technique in development at the University of Washington. The twinkling artifact is a rapid color change that can highlight hard objects, such as kidney stones, on a grey-scale ultrasound image; however, twinkling currently appears inconsistently on clinical ultrasound machines.
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The investigator team recently showed that twinkling is caused by bubbles on the stone surface and bubbles will be very sensitive to the changes in gravity and pressure that occur in space. In this proposal, investigators plan to use their knowledge of bubbles and ultrasound to increase twinkling. Using modeling and experimentation in environments that mimic space, they will develop and test imaging protocols to demonstrate their ability to detect stones in astronauts before they grow large enough to become dangerous.
This experiment is in progress.