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Researchers devise decision-support system for space

Dr John HughesMONTREAL – Researchers at St. Mary’s Hospital (SMHC) Research Centre have developed a new technology that can be used in exploration-class space missions and to improve access to healthcare here on Earth.

“This new technology, called the Lethality Algorithm, was integrated into a concept study for the Canadian Space Agency’s autonomous medical care system. It is intended to provide medical decision support to crews undertaking long duration space travel. In essence, the system is designed to provide the combined clinical expertise of the emergency room physician, the psychologist, the occupational therapist and the family physician,” explained Dr. John Hughes (pictured), Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at McGill University and co-Principal Investigator, Medical Informatics at St. Mary’s Research Centre.

Exploration-class missions, such as human missions to asteroids and Mars, present a set of unique challenges. Over the course of these missions astronauts will be exposed to long periods of weightlessness, solar and cosmic radiation and isolation.

The health effects from prolonged exposure to these conditions are unknown. The crew will be cut-off from their traditional Earth-based real-time medical support as communications with Earth will be delayed and at times impossible. In spite of these challenges, crew members must maintain peak performance levels for critical tasks and they must be returned to operational status as quickly as possible following illness or injury.

The solution to this complex remote-care problem is a virtual medical consultant, such as the Advanced Crew Medical System (ACMS), that would support the crew medical officer in providing autonomous medical care.

Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut and former President of the Canadian Space Agency, said: “When I flew to the International Space Station, I knew that I could be in touch with a flight surgeon in Houston Mission Control almost immediately if I experienced a problem. But what if I was on my way to Mars, where the hazards were greater and instantaneous medical consultation was no longer possible? That is why the ability to monitor, diagnose and prescribe appropriate treatment, based on one’s own health status, is so attractive, not only for space travel but also, in many cases, back on Earth.”

“Biometric sensors on the astronauts would provide the ACMS with data on the health status of each crew member. Through the Lethality Algorithm, a new technology developed by St Mary’s researchers, the ACMS would provide real-time instructions to crew members as they perform examinations, interventions or treatments on their fellow crew members,” said Michel Lortie, systems engineer and co-Principal Investigator, Medical Informatics at St. Mary’s Research Centre.

The ACMS would also incorporate interactive training modules to support and train the crew in the “just-in-time” acquisition and maintenance of medical skills. It would stay current with evolving medical guidelines and best practices through updates sent to its medical knowledge base from Mission Control on Earth.

Lortie further indicated that: “Here on Earth the ACMS could improve healthcare in the 21st century by providing greater access to primary care in the Western World and by helping to relieve the shortage of primary care in the developing World. Autonomous Medicine can help make first world healthcare affordable and sustainable for the whole World.”

“The applications derived from this ACMS concept will contribute to the success of exploration class missions and to advancing Canada’s legacy as a leader in space technology and healthcare innovation,” said Dr. Susan Law, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, St. Mary’s Hospital Center and associate Professor of Medicine at McGill University.

The ACMS concept study was funded by the Canadian Space Agency and developed by a team led by St. Mary’s Research Centre in collaboration with McGill University’s Faculties of Medicine and Engineering and NEPTEC Design Group Ltd. The Autonomous Medicine Research Program at St. Mary’s, upon which the ACMS was based, is funded by the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation.

To learn more about this innovative technology and its applications in healthcare innovation here on Earth as well as in space travel, take a look at the video narrated by William Shatner – available on the St. Mary’s Research Centre web site.

St. Mary’s Hospital Center (SMHC) is a university affiliated community hospital which serves a multicultural population. It seeks to provide the highest level of safe patient and family focused care. St. Mary’s is an integral part of the Réseau universitaire intégré de santé (RUIS) McGill. Please visit www.smhc.qc.ca.

St. Mary’s Research Centre (SMRC) supports high quality research relevant to the patients and services provided at St Mary’s Hospital and beyond. Principal areas of research include: mental health, primary healthcare and family medicine, bio-medical informatics, clinical research, emergency services, health experiences and patient engagement, and quality improvement. Through continuous knowledge transfer to the community and decision support for leaders, the Centre promotes the conduct and application of excellent science for optimal patient experiences, clinical outcomes, and improved health service delivery.

For more information, find us on http://www.smhc.qc.ca/en/research

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