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Catherine Watson July 16, 1993 RELEASE: 93-055 3 p.m. CDT


NASA and the Texas Medical Center have signed an agreement that will formalize and expand a long-standing working relationship that puts their combined expertise and experience to work on scientific, technical and management issues important to improving the economy and life on Earth, Johnson Space Center Director Aaron Cohen announced today.

JSC has a long and successful history of developing systems and processes for assuring the health, well-being and performance of humans involved in space flight. Texas Medical Center, with broad-based clinical and basic scientific research activities, addresses areas of mutual interest to JSC in disciplines such as biotechnology, bioengineering, telemedicine and biomedicine.

The memorandum of understanding facilitates the sharing of significant talent, professional expertise and world-class facilities that in combination provide a unique opportunity for the development of new approaches to both Earth-based and space flight human biomedical problems.

The idea of NASA and Texas Medical Center joining forces to diagnose and cure disease for Americans was initiated a year ago by Texas Governor Ann Richards.

"This agreement is the best of two worlds of technology coming together to reach for the stars and at the same time improve health care on Earth," Gov. Richards said.

NASA and Texas Medical Center will enter into discussions about mutual areas of interest, such as developing systems to track the health and performance capabilities of individual space flight crew members, understanding physiological responses to environmental challenges on Earth and in space, and improving emergency and preventive medical care delivery capabilities through simple, reliable, accurate and cost-effective technologies, procedures and systems.

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Within the framework of the memorandum, NASA and Texas Medical Center will negotiate separate agreements concerning each specific project on a case-by-case basis. Some of the agreements may involve the transfer of funds while others will involve the commitment of in-kind facilities and resources. NASA's obligations will be performed by Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"This agreement is a logical next step in helping both NASA and the people in the Texas Medical Center institutions solve a number of the puzzles in how the human body can become more effective during space travel, and how the environment in space can be better utilized for medical and health benefits to all people," said Richard E. Wainerdi, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Texas Medical Center.

"While NASA and the Texas Medical Center Institutions have been cooperating on projects for over 30 years, this agreement lends a formal framework for future endeavors," Wainerdi said.

Texas Medical Center is a corporation of about 40 member institutions, each devoted to not-for-profit patient care, medical and health education, and research. Seventeen of these institutions had about $437 million pledged in 1991 for research projects, of which $353 million was received from outside sources to fund research in that year. Texas Medical Center is located on about 670 acres in the southwest part of Houston and employs more than 54,000 full and part-time workers. It registers more than 3 million patient visits each year, and the member institutions have operating budgets which total about $4 billion annually.

From its inception, NASA has been committed to extending the benefits of its scientific and technological achievements and research to the improvement of life on Earth. Of the more than 30,000 technology applications that have come out of the space program, a large number are now being used in the practice of medicine throughout the world in cardiology, cancer and immunology research, emergency medicine, osteoporosis research, radiology and toxicology.

For example, noted heart surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and Dr. George Noon of Baylor College of Medicine currently are working with NASA scientists to develop a totally implantable artificial heart assist device. In a 1992 Congressional field hearing, DeBakey pointed out that "Some of these technologies have proved to be of extraordinary value in the diagnosis, therapy and further research of disease states which continue to plague human beings."

NASA and Texas Medical Center began working together in 1962, when their scientists and physicians collaborated in the use of electroencephalography to help monitor brain function during space flight. The first in-flight test of EEG monitoring was performed in December 1965 on Gemini Astronaut Frank Borman.

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That mission pioneered the use of biotelemetry, a method for converting physiological bioelectric data into signals that are sent to doctors at remote locations. Biotelemetry is now used routinely for monitoring patients in intensive or coronary care units of hospitals, newborns who are being transported from one unit to the next, or emergency patients who are being transported in ambulances.Another dramatic area of technology transfer has been in the development of diagnostic aids such as Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) that have been instrumental in the detection and early diagnosis of various diseases. These specialized scanning instruments were based on the satellite image-enhancement technology that NASA used in Landsat, a satellite that produces digitized electronic pictures of the Earth's resources.

Biomedical research is expected to be one of the major scientific activities aboard NASA's redesigned space station, providing scientists with a better understanding of the impact of extended-duration missions on humans and validating countermeasures to lessen the undesirable effects of microgravity. This understanding could also yield fundamental information about processes within the body that can be applied to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease states on Earth.



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