Animal Health Gets a Boost From NASA
Who knew that animals would ultimately benefit from NASA technology developed for astronauts?

VetScan unit Animal care was not on the minds of NASA-funded researchers when they were developing an automatic blood analyzer for Skylab.

The device was important to monitor the health of astronauts during their space missions. Due to the size of the space crew's working quarters, the unit had to be created small enough to fit in tight places and still be capable of working in microgravity.

Image right: The VetScan® system consists of a 15-pound portable analyzer and pre-configured reagent, or "rotor," disks that enable veterinarians to obtain a precise picture of a patient's condition. Image credit: NASA/Spinoff

In the 1970s, NASA partnered with a Tennessee-based laboratory to develop a method to separate blood cells using centrifugal force. This way, scientists could study in-flight samples to gauge the astronauts' fluids, electrolyte balance, adrenal function and perform other important physiological tests.

The original technology continued to be improved upon, and in the late 1980s NASA patented and licensed the unit to Abaxis, Inc. of California. The company refined the analyzer even further, making it lighter in weight and more portable.

Realizing the need for point-of-care diagnostics for the veterinary community, Abaxis developed the VetScan® Chemistry Analyzer, using the original NASA technology as a foundation.

"Every now and then a tool enters the veterinary profession that revolutionizes the way we practice," said Dr. Don Harris of the Exotic Animal Medical Center in Florida. "This device has significantly elevated our diagnostic ability."

Portable blood analyzer at a farm Image left: Veterinary practices would normally depend on the services of external laboratories to process test results, often taking days. With space-age technology incorporated into the VetScan® animals can be treated as quickly as the astronauts on Skylab. Image credit: NASA/Spinoff

A full range of tests for almost every species of animals treated by veterinarians was created for the VetScan®. Two drops of blood is all that is necessary for a diagnosis in less than 15 minutes. Judging by the size of some small animals or birds, this NASA-based technology has saved many children's pets from serious illnesses.

The ability to carry the unit to the patient, using only a car-lighter adapter for power, gives doctors the information they need to make qualified and rapid decisions about treatment.

Whether on the Earth, Moon or Mars, NASA know-how continues to play an important part in our daily lives. We can only imagine the improved health benefits that will come from the new technology developed for the Vision for Space Exploration.

For further information, visit:
+ Spinoff Online: Commercialized NASA Technology
+ NASA Connections to Everyday Life
+ Express Testing Makes for More Effective Vet Visit
Courtesy of the NASA Innovative Technology Transfer Partnerships Program
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center and Spinoff On-Line
Elaine M. Marconi, KSC Staff Writer

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