NASA visits Travis for potential collaboration

  • Published
  • By Louis Briscese
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Representatives from NASA visited David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base, California, June 1 in hopes of establishing research collaboration leading to advances in medical support for deep space missions as well as warfighters. The Space agency provided a presentation on manned deep space exploration missions and how Travis fits into their long-term vision.

The Clinical Investigation Facility inside DGMC provided valuable research data to NASA. They arranged demonstrations of their capabilities during the visit which was led by Lt. Col. Leonardo Tato, director of the Clinical Investigation Facility, 60th Medical Support Squadron.

“NASA is being chartered to come up with medical capabilities for long-term exploration,” said Tato. “Currently, their medical capacities are based on their mission to 230 miles low orbit.”

Dr. David Loftus, medical officer and principal investigator of the Space Biosciences Research Branch, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, is excited about the potential collaboration between NASA and Travis.

“We see a partnership with Travis as a terrific opportunity,” said Loftus. “With our medical technologies and their abilities to test them with real-world application through research, the partnership will be vital to our success.”

Although manned space travel isn’t new, the distances for the next phase of deep space missions are much greater than ever before for human exploration.

“Traveling to Mars and beyond are such tremendous distances from earth,” said Loftus. “That type of travel requires a whole new medical capability, which is why we are here at Travis.”

NASA’s vision is to begin long-distance travel within the next 15 to 20 years.

“The maximum distance we travel now is 230 miles to the International Space Station,” said Loftus. “Ultimately, we’ll explore unmanned and then manned missions around the moon, then to Mars and beyond.”

Research at the CIF is conducted with the purpose of advancing military science and developing advanced military technologies to improve healthcare of patients on and off the battlefield. The research aims to address unique military medical requirements that civilian institutions and industry may not have economic incentive to pursue.

“We have to leverage our civilian partnerships and other government agencies to solve our unique military health capability gaps,” said Tato. “Our military mission and unique operational environment generates special medical needs, whereas civilian institutions and businesses don’t have the monetary incentive to tackle these issues as they are not in their scope of practice.”

NASA is working in conjunction with Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California, to develop instruments that analyze patients through breath and fluids.

“Our technologies are a combined effort between NASA and Livermore National Laboratory,” said Loftus. “The advancements of microfluidic and breath analysis technologies combined together to form a very powerful diagnostic instrument.”

One of the devices NASA is utilizing was created by Dr. Jing Li, NASA Ames Research Center, Li has been developing this device for 10 years.

“The E-Nose breathalyzer allows you to understand the different volatile compounds in exhaled breath,” said Loftus. “This correlates with the various compounds and the health of the patient or warfighter.”

There is also optimism that the collaboration will improve military applications on the battlefield.

“We feel this technology will be perfect for deep space missions as well as military applications,” said Loftus. “We’re very interested in the effects of injuries from pulmonary and traumatic brain injury from improvised explosive devices.”

The collaboration between NASA and Travis is a perfect fit because of the similarities they share said Lt. Col. Ian Stewart, 60th Medical Support Squadron, nephrologist, which is a doctor that specializes in kidney care.

“It’s very exciting because NASA and the military share a lot of similar problems,” said Stewart. “The ability to evacuate a casualty from an austere environment is similar to providing emergency medical care to an astronaut in space.”