Because spaceflight exposes human beings to new environments, monitors our own environment, provides access to remote areas of the world and creates laboratory potential that’s literally out of this world, the space industry has many benefits to healthcare.
Lab-on-a-chip technologies, miniature micro-fluidic laboratories inside a microchip, originally meant for and still contributing to spaceflight, currently provide services ranging from medical testing on tiny human cells to a ‘nanopill’ that can be swallowed and perform tests from inside the human body.
Astronaut health is of utmost importance, but invasive checks are not an option in space. In the 90's TNO developed a portable, non-invasive blood pressure measurement system for ESA, CNES and NASA. The blood pressure measurement system was then transferred to Earth, and since then more than a thousand systems have been sold to physicians and hospitals world wide by Dutch company Finapres Medical Systems.
Improvements in ultrasound baby pictures are provided by space technology that originated in the Netherlands. A computer chip, originally designed for use in satellite operations has now found its place on Earth providing clearer and sharper 2D and 3D images of expected babies.
The quality of our planet's air affects not only our health as we breath it, but has wide impacts on vegetation and agriculture. The Dutch initiative SmogProg uses an integration of satellite data from atmospheric instruments to visualize and assess air quality in the Netherlands and Temis is a cooperative project, headed in the Netherlands, that makes satellite-based air quality data accessible daily online.
Even sunlight, so vital to humans, our food, and the planet we live on, can also sometimes be harmful. Unless we understand why and when and are adequately warned, UV radiation can cause serious burns and even skin cancer. UV indexes are monitored from space, then analysed and provided online on a daily basis by the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). The materials used to protect astronauts from UV radiation during space walks are also used to protect patients suffering from XP, a rare disorder that causes ultra-sensitivity to sunlight.
Astronauts isolated in orbit around the Earth, or on the Moon or Mars need effective and timely monitoring of their health and tele-medicine is also very useful here on Earth. In the Netherlands, a Dutch company has used space technology to introduce a new iPhone Telemedicine application with which physicians can monitor their patients’ vital signs at any time, and from anywhere. Patients can also use their portable device to alert their doctor, who can then instantaneously check the patients vital signs and advise accordingly from any location and during any activity.