ANFF partners with NASA to monitor health in space
The Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) has partnered with NASA in a project to develop sensors for monitoring the health of astronauts through testing bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva.
Located in Adelaide at the University of South Australia (UniSA), the South Australian node of the ANFF (ANFF-SA) is one of eight university-based hubs around Australia. The node started a decade ago, specialising in microfluidics, but its expertise has since grown to include lab-on-a-chip technology, advanced sensing, functional coatings and separation science.
Complementing UniSA’s Future Industries Institute’s research infrastructure at its Mawson Lakes campus, the node has more than $12 million worth of state-of-the-art equipment including a high-tech micro-milling machine, a micro-injection moulder, 3D micro X-ray imaging, a deep reactive ion etcher and advanced lithographic equipment housed within ISO Class 5 and 6 cleanrooms.
Node Director Associate Professor Craig Priest leads research into the development of microfluidic sensor platforms designed to monitor human health factors, which will be an initial focus of the international partnership with NASA.
“When you are working and travelling in space there is no doctor on board or regular health testing facilities, and we know astronauts are operating in a challenging environment,” Assoc Prof Priest said.
“You can imagine in a space environment where you’ve got zero gravity, radiation and other extreme conditions, the ability to know if things are going wrong quickly is very important.
“We are aiming to work with NASA to develop non-invasive health self-assessment, and possibly wearable, tools that will be able to analyse things like sweat and saliva, and track health effects in real time.
“The research supports ambitions for further and longer journeys into space and will help astronauts to monitor and mitigate the physiological effects of longer exposure to space environments.”
Assoc Prof Priest said the technologies developed for NASA will ultimately also be used for applications on Earth.
“Increasingly, health management is going to go towards looking for those early signs, so we hope that some of these sensors will be able to head off health challenges quite quickly,” he said.
“Ultimately, it should return to Earth and help all of us, but the target of it here is to go for those challenging environments where you don’t have much water or large laboratories — you’ve got small spaces and lightweight equipment.
“What does that mean for being able to do clinical-level testing in an environment where you just don’t have the clinic?
“Whatever technologies that are developed in this area of research are eventually going to find their way into our pockets or onto our wrists, and it’s those types of technologies that I believe are going to be the game changers for health management and early intervention in space and on Earth.”
Originally published here.
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