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That's Cool!
If you're a football coach with an injured star quarterback, you want to get him back on the playing field as soon as possible. NASA's Apollo astronauts needed spacesuits to maintain their body temperature in the extreme conditions on the Moon. So what does one have to do with other? Plenty...Just ask Bill Elkins.

Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. Heralded as "one of the true fathers of the spacesuit" by the American Astronautical Society, Bill Elkins didn't stop pioneering after he helped astronauts survive the Moon's harsh environment. After years of working with NASA, he's now applying that technology, research and knowledge to some diverse, down-to-Earth problems through a company he founded called CoolSystems Inc. As a result, injured athletes, post-operative patients and people suffering from neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis are now reaping the benefits.

Image at Left: Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the Moon. Image credit: NASA

So how did spacesuit technology make the leap from the Moon to the playing field?

The suits used on the Moon maintained a constant temperature for the astronauts by using a battery-powered mini-pump to circulate chilled water through a network of tubes lining the garment. After years of collaboration with NASA, Elkins began working with sports trainers and doctors to apply these same methods to sports medicine. The result is the Game Ready™ Accelerated Recovery System.

The Game Ready™ control box is pictured. This system speeds up the healing process by using patented ergonomic wraps and an adjustable control unit to simultaneously provide deep-tissue cooling therapy along with intermittent compression.

Image at Rigth: The Game Ready™ control unit allows the temperature and compression to be adjusted. Image credit: CoolSystems, Inc.

The idea of using cold and compression for treatment isn't new. The "RICE" method -- rest, ice, compression and elevation -- has been advised by doctors for years. But controlling these elements can prove difficult, and sometimes results in additional harm if applied improperly. Too much cold, for instance, can actually cause more tissue damage.

Enter the Game Ready™ system. It provides controlled cold therapy within the optimum temperature range, along with the correct amount of compression -- another factor difficult to calculate by manual methods. The Game Ready™ system uses intermittent compression rather than the constant compression that something like an elastic bandage would produce. This cyclical compression more closely mirrors the muscle contractions that the body itself uses.

The ergonomic wraps are made from a flexible fabric and are designed to custom fit the ankle, knee, back, torso, shoulder, elbow and wrist. One model of the Game Ready™ ergonomic wrap, this one for an ankle, is pictured. These wraps, which are applied firmly to the injured area by using hook and loop fasteners, can effectively reduce pain, swelling and tissue damage in those areas.

Image at Left: This ankle wrap is one of seven specialized ergonomic wraps that custom fit injured areas of the body. Image credit: CoolSystems, Inc.

The control unit circulates cooled water through the wraps by using microprocessors to measure treatment time, temperature and the level of intermittent compression. The unit is portable and operates on a battery pack, so it can be used in almost any location.

Reported results have been amazing, with some professional trainers seeing the recovery times of athletes cut in half in comparison with traditional treatment. That success rate has meant the Game Ready™ system has found its way into the treatment regimen of more than 60 professional teams, 70 universities, U.S. Olympic Training Centers, the Navy SEALS, the San Francisco Ballet, and hundreds of individual professional athletes.

But the usefulness of this spacesuit technology doesn't end there. Another creation by CoolSystems Inc. -- the Recharge™ Active Cooling System -- lowers the core body temperature of patients to manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and other heat-related neurological disorders.

The Recharge™ system employs the same principles but delivers cold therapy through a hooded vest that is connected to the control unit. Using it can reduce the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in athletes. In addition, it can provide long-lasting relief from the heat-induced symptoms of MS -- experienced by a majority of sufferers -- such as decreased balance, vision, strength, endurance and fatigue.

The Recharge™ hooded vest is pictured. Image at Right: The Recharge™ hooded cooling vest lowers the core body temperature to help manage heat-related symptoms of illness. Image credit: CoolSystems, Inc

Looking to the future, the company has announced a cooperative effort with Stanford University Medical Center in California to further apply the technology. CoolSystems Inc. plans to work with the Stanford Stroke Center to develop a cooling helmet to help stroke and head trauma patients.

Now that's cool.

For further information, visit:
Spinoff Online: Commercialized NASA Technology
NASA Connections to Everyday Life
Courtesy of the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center and Spinoff On-Line
Cheryl L. Mansfield, KSC Staff Writer