BACKGROUND: The National Space Biomedical Research Institute has worked with a surgeon to develop an ultrasound training program for non-physicians. The program gives astronauts and sports trainers the tools to assess injuries using real-time remote assistance from medical experts. Four crews of the International Space Station have been successfully trained in the method, which has been extended to include athletic trainers of members of the 2006 Winter Olympics and a National Pro Hockey team. The surgeon, Scott Dulchavsky, is also working with the military, fire and rescue agencies, since the method could benefit search and rescue operations in remote areas where a doctor might not be readily available in person.
ABOUT THE PROJECT: Ultrasound has long been used to diagnose a variety of medical conditions, including problem pregnancies, gallstones, and kidney stones. It is also a useful tool to diagnose medical emergencies that could occur in space missions. The program transmits high-quality images from ultrasound scans by satellite to trained medical personnel on earth, who could then suggest appropriate treatment. The images are transmitted in real time, with only a slight delay depending on the exact location of the astronauts in orbit.
HOW ULTRASOUND WORKS: Ultrasound is a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and their echoes. It is similar to how bats navigate in the dark, and the SONAR used by submarines underwater. The machine transmits high-frequency sound pulses into the body using a probe. The sound waves travel through the body and bounce off any boundaries, such as between fluid and soft tissue, tissue and bone. Some of the sound waves are reflected back to the probe, while others travel further through until they bounce off another boundary. All the reflected waves are recorded by the machine, which then calculates the distance each sound wave traveled based on how long it took the sound wave's echo to return. This data is used to form a two-dimensional image based on the distances and intensities of those echoes.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.