NASA uses live 3D ultrasound imaging to study Space
Shuttle astronaut heart mass loss
25 September 2006
Andover, Mass., USA. The US National Aeronautics and Space
Administration (NASA) is using a Philips ultrasound system to evaluate the
effects of space flight on the hearts of Space Shuttle astronauts and, in
the near future, astronauts on the International Space Station and
ground-based analogs. Of interest to NASA researchers is the loss of heart
mass brought on by space flight.
Philips Electronics (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHI) has announced that NASA will use
its iE33 echocardiography system and QLAB quantification software to monitor
the astronauts. Launched in 2004, the iE33 is a new generation of cardiac
ultrasound equipment that uses high-definition imaging to help physicians
diagnose heart disease and incorporates data-analysis tools to help support
treatment decisions and monitor treatment success.
Astronauts commonly are thought to lose heart mass during prolonged
flight. Two-dimensional echocardiography measurements reveal a 5 percent
decrease, which usually returns within three days of being back on Earth.
Researchers are interested in learning the cause of these changes. Possible
explanations include heart atrophy caused by weightlessness, dehydration
from space travel or error caused by the geometric assumptions used in
The new technology being used captures a full-volume image of the
beating heart in less than a minute and allows physicians to examine the
heart as if they were holding it in their hands. It also allows the
researchers to make accurate measurements of heart mass, ejection
fraction, blood flow, strain rate and cardiac wall motion pre- and
"We have a very short window of time in which to do an echo exam on
the astronauts," said David S. Martin of Wyle Laboratories, Inc.,
ultrasound lead for the NASA Cardiovascular Laboratory at the Johnson
Space Center in Houston, Texas. "Live 3D Echo allows us to quickly grab
all the image data we need to do a full examination of the heart anatomy
and function and send the astronauts on their way. Following the image
acquisition, we use off-line analysis software to do several
measurements that help us evaluate changes after space travel."
The use of this heart imaging and measurement technology will be part
of ongoing research at the NASA Cardiovascular Laboratory. It will also
complement the imaging done by a modified Philips HDI 5000 ultrasound
system that was installed in the International Space Station's Human
Research Facility in 2001.
"These new ultrasound technologies help us efficiently conduct
sophisticated cardiac research of astronauts and the effects of
microgravity," said Martin.