ISS: Bio-Monitor / Bio-Analyzer
ISS Utilization: Bio-Monitor and Bio-Analyzer of CSA (Canadian Space Agency)
A new wearable technology has been designed to fit into an astronaut's daily routine aboard the International Space Station (ISS) while monitoring and recording vital signs. This system, which includes a smart shirt and dedicated tablet application, will help keep an eye on astronauts' health and enable new science by continuously measuring physiological data. 1)
Background: Doing science in space is no easy task. To participate in health experiments, astronauts must use several medical devices including electrocardiographs, blood pressure cuffs, fingertip oxygen saturation monitors, and ankle-bracelet activity sensors. These devices are often bulky and invasive. Using them is disruptive and time-consuming.
The Bio-Monitor simplifies the process by combining numerous devices into one wireless, easy-to-use garment that records vital sign data. The system measures the following:
- pulse and electrical activity of the heart
- blood pressure
- breathing rate and volume
- skin temperature
- blood oxygen saturation
- physical activity levels.
The smart shirt can also be worn during sleep and exercise. The system is designed to easily send information to the ground, where scientists can monitor the astronauts' health around the clock as they orbit the planet.
Objectives: Using the Bio-Monitor on the ISS will allow scientists to:
- record astronauts' vital signs in a way that does not disturb daily activities or require lots of time or attention
- replace bigger equipment with a sleek all-in-one garment
- receive scientific data directly from space for faster analysis
How it works
1) The wearable technology system is designed to be as comfortable as a typical snug shirt. The shirt has adjustable straps to position small metal sensors against the skin in order to get a good reading.
2) If an astronaut is about to exercise, he or she can use a tablet application to specify the type of activity and see his or her vital signs throughout the session.
3) Once finished, the astronaut disconnects the battery pack and plugs it into a base, which downloads the data to Earth through the Station's communications system for scientific analysis.
Carré Technologies of Montreal, Quebec, developed Bio-Monitor for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Three additional Canadian companies lent their support:
• CALM Technologies (of Kingston, Ontario), engineering assistance to send the Bio-Monitor to space.
• Xiphos Technologies (of Montreal, Quebec), a processor card that sends data from the ISS to Earth
• Katz Design Inc. (of Montreal, Quebec), mechanical design, industrial design and full CAD development of the Bio-Monitor.
Figure 1: Bio-Monitor to launch to the International Space Station (video credit: CSA)
Launch: The Bio-Monitor system was launched on 5 December 2018 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX [SpaceX CRS-16 (SpX-16).
The Bio-Analyzer is a new tool of CSA, the size of a videogame console, that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will use to easily test different body fluids such as blood, saliva, and urine. Using just a few drops of liquid—no big needles required!—it quickly returns key biomedical analyses. 2)
Background: In space, astronauts often have to draw multiple tubes of their own blood as part of science experiments. Because room is limited on returning cargo spacecraft, these tubes are commonly brought to Earth for analysis only months later. Prior to the Bio-Analyzer, astronauts had to store their blood in a small freezer on the ISS. Although it decreases sample quality, freezing remained a necessary step because on-board testing did not yet exist.
The Bio-Analyzer can provide test results from space within two to three hours, thus reducing the need to freeze and return samples. Thanks to this on-board instrument, scientists will gain much faster access to scientific data. In the future, the Canadian technology could also help monitor astronauts' health throughout their missions on board the Station.
Objectives: By processing samples on board the ISS, the Bio-Analyzer:
- makes blood draws much easier by only requiring a finger prick sample, eliminating the need for a standard needle
- maintains the quality of the sample, as it does not need to be frozen
- enables new testing such as specific cell counts
- frees up valuable storage space on board the Station and on cargo ships that transport frozen materials back to Earth.
How it works
1) The astronaut takes a sample of blood, urine, or saliva for testing.
2) The astronaut loads it into the device.
3) Within minutes, the Bio-Analyzer measures several categories of biological information, for example, the concentration of specific types of blood cells, or the levels of specific proteins.
4) Scientists at Canadian Space Agency headquarters receive the Bio-Analyzer's results through the ISS communications system and transfer them to the researcher.
Figure 3: Dr. Ian D'Souza, research and development scientist at Honeywell Aerospace, explains the Bio-Analyzer, a liquid sample analysis device being tested on board the International Space Station. The Bio-Analyzer will help astronauts accelerate the process of scientific data collection (video credit: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)
• Honeywell (COM DEV), of Cambridge, Ontario, is the prime contractor for the Bio-Analyzer. They have led the design of the overall system, developed the optical reader for the lab-on-a-chip, and integrated the core subsystems for use in space.
• Alentic Microscience, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, designed and developed the Bio-Analyzer's compact cell analysis subsystem, incorporating its innovative lensless microscopy technology.
• Sensoreal, of Montreal, Quebec, designed the Bio-Analyzer's lab-on-a-chip, a microfluidic device for protein biomarker measurements.
• Xiphos Technologies, based in Montreal, Quebec, developed the Q7 computational platform that operates the Bio-Analyzer, runs the bio-analysis programs, and communicates with the ISS to transmit test results back to Earth.
Launch: The Bio-Analyzer was flown to the ISS on 17 April 2019 on a Cygnus cargo spacecraft of Northrop Grumman.
Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques performed tests with the Bio-Analyzer in May 2019.
Biomarker analysis is a group of tests that look for these molecular signs of health. In terms of cell counting, the device can count different blood cell types from the same sample. Overall, the data generated by the Bio-Analyzer could someday help produce a complete blood count, a test used to determine a patient’s overall health. 3)
The blood collection method, a finger prick to obtain less than 1 milliliter of blood per sample, is less complex and time-consuming than current space station collection methods, consisting of blood draws into tubes, as in Earth-based clinics. Additionally, sample preparation is semi-automated, requiring less crew time.
The Bio-Analyzer also provides automated data transfer to the ground, making the data available much sooner than when the samples must be frozen and returned to the ground, as is currently the case. Biomarker detection takes approximately three hours, followed by electronic analysis of the sample with immediate availability of results. Cell counting takes approximately four minutes, and this data becomes immediately available as well. Delivery of analysis results shortly after the sample is loaded provides the opportunity for near real time medical diagnostics.
“The ability to rapidly collect and analyze cells will reduce the requirement for sample return,” said Principal Investigator Luchino Cohen. “We can avoid the steps of collecting samples in tubes, keeping them in cold stowage, delivering them on a returning vehicle, and then analyzing them on the ground. This rapid analysis will accelerate scientific data collection.”
This new diagnostic tool could help test the efficacy of specific countermeasures that are key to current and future exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. For example, to test the effectiveness of countermeasures used for reducing bone loss, it should be possible to perform regular tests on crewmember blood to quantify biomarkers of blood degradation, an indicator of bone health.
The Bio-Analyzer can provide Earth-based benefits as well, such as improving point-of-care diagnostics. “This has great potential for continuous monitoring of patients here on the ground,” said Cohen. “Patients won’t need to go to the clinic or wait days for blood analysis results. That’s the future of medical diagnostics on Earth,” he added.
Once the Bio-Analyzer system is fully functional on the space station and has successfully demonstrated its capabilities in microgravity, scientists plan to use it for future space station research, such as in the CSA-sponsored Immuno Profile investigation. For each investigation, companies tune specific tests to satisfy the requirements of each investigator. The CSA currently plans six years of Bio-Analyzer space station utilization.
Bio-Analyzer: Operational Requirements and Protocols 4)
• During operations, the instrument is mounted near an EXpedite the PRocessing of Experiments for Space Station (EXPRESS) Rack location, where it is connected to the Rack via the EXPRESS Rack Power and Data Cables.
• A biological sample is collected, processed using the ancillary items, then inserted into the analysis section of the instrument.
• Operations require a Bio-Analyzer Processing Kit from stowage (specific kits are prepared on ground and launched per experiment needs).
• Blood samples are collected using pipettes after puncture of the finger using a lancet. The blood sample is mixed with required reagents per procedure (all hardware + reagents are part of processing kits).
• For Biomarker analysis: processed samples are injected into a Biomarker microchip which is inserted into the Bio-Analyzer instrument and analyzed automatically.
• For Cellular analysis: processed samples are inserted directly into the Bio-Analyzer instrument and analyzed automatically.
• Upon completion of analysis, the ground team downloads data.
• Crew cleans analysis surfaces on the Bio-Analyzer, disposes of all consumable hardware, and stows Bio-Analyzer instrument.
1) ”Bio-Monitor: Keeping an eye on astronauts' vital signs,” CSA, 30 January 2019, URL: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/sciences/bio-monitor.asp
3) Michael Johnson, ”Analyze This: Space Station Facility Enables Rapid Biomedical Analysis,” NASA, 15 May 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research
4) ”Bio-Analyzer,” NASA, 11 April 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).