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Challenge : In-flight Imaging System

Challenge : In-flight Imaging System

NASA needs in-flight topical and internal imaging systems to diagnose pathologies for adequate treatment of an ill or injured crewmember. Specific medical conditions have been targeted, prioritized by risk to exploration missions, where imaging and imaging-derived capabilities are required for diagnosis and treatment. Research aims have also been identified that will require scanning for studying bone degradation, muscle atrophy, and loss of cardiovascular function during manned space flight. From the research and medical operational needs, these targeted conditions fall into seven categories:

  • The first category is musculoskeletal injuries/traumas requiring high contrast high resolution visualization of bone, muscle and connective tissues for the detection of injury to determine proper treatment. Gaps in this category include:
    • Meeting two often-conflicting needs for the ability to take images within bony structures versus maintaining high contrast in the surrounding soft tissues.
    • Inability to obtain images of fracture using spaceflight compatible hardware. Forward technology development aims should include improving the capability to penetrate both soft tissue and underlying bone to diagnose fractures. Additional capabilities should include the ability to provide contrast enhancement in connective tissues and develop quantitative techniques for measuring bone degradation, muscle atrophy, changes in the lumbar spine, and compartment syndrome during exploration missions. Further gap closure might necessitate developing compact, flight-qualified radiographic capabilities for projection (and potentially tomographic) imaging.
  • The second category includes internal injuries/traumas, which require high resolution, high contrast imaging to identify fluid collections and to locate subtle, often occult, injury sites in the soft parenchymal and connective tissues and their associated vasculature. Forward technology development aims in this area include improving the capability to visualize soft tissue deeper within the abdomen in sites that are currently occult (e.g., the pancreas), and providing contrast enhancement among abdominal and thoracic tissues. Further gap closure might necessitate developing flight-qualified radiographic capabilities for projection (and especially tomographic) imaging. Imaging derived technologies may also provide capability for treatment of specific conditions such as renal colic and internal hemorrhage.
  • Four categories of conditions, ear/nose/throat (ENT) pathologies, ophthalmic injuries/pathologies, topical injuries/pathologies, and oral/dental pathologies, are more amenable to traditional optical imaging techniques for diagnosis. These conditions sometimes require high resolution images for the detection of relatively small pathologies. Gaps in these areas include the need to address a wide variety of conditions and the need to obtain depth penetration in lesions.
  • The final category, cardiovascular pathology, requires high resolution, high contrast dynamic imaging of the heart muscle anatomy, arterial and vascular condition and blood flow in all areas of the cardiovascular system. Gaps in this category include meeting the need to produce high resolution images (sub-millimeter resolution) with high temporal fidelity. Generally, successful utilization of less intuitive imaging technologies by minimally trained personnel to ensure ease of use and interpretation is a challenge that must be addressed.

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