Based on turbine technology developed for use in liquid propellant rocket engines, this specially designed small, lightweight, high speed turbine pumps blood without damage to the delicate, individual blood cells. A joint effort beginning in 1988 between NASA and a group of doctors headed by Dr. Michael DeBakey led to development of this Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), a small, efficient axial flow blood pump.
In order to develop the high performance required of the liquid propellant Space Shuttle main engines, NASA pushed the state of the art in the technology of turbopump design. Using this technology and computational fluid dynamics software developed for use in Shuttle flow analysis, NASA engineers worked toward the miniaturization and optimization of the small blood pump. The VAD technology developed by these engineers was licensed to a commercial medical supply company, MicroMed Technology, Inc. who developed the ancillary support systems (controller and data acquisition systems) through a series of preclinical trials with Dr. DeBakey at Baylor College of Medicine.
The assistance this VAD provides will be utilized in three distinct modes: initially as a "bridge to transplant," a temporary device used to help the patient survive while waiting for a suitable transplant organ to become available. A second beneficial application is in the "bridge to recovery." Surgeons have discovered that with some hearts, the assistance supplied by the VAD is sufficient to allow the natural heart to repair itself, in which case, the VAD can later be removed. The third anticipated application of the VAD would be as a permanent implant.
Since the 1970's when charged coupled devices (CCD's) were first developed, camera and video companies have been seeking to improve the technology. CCD's provide good image quality, but they are expensive, power hungry, and with the required accessory chips, bulky. Recognizing the shortcomings of CCD technology, and with the continuing need for lightweight imaging systems especially for interplanetary spacecraft applications, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) began research on a second-generation solid state image sensor technology.
In late 1992 that research produced the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor Active Pixel Sensors (CMOS APS). By consolidating functions and reading images more efficiently, the APS requires 1% the power of a CCD system and is less than 10% the size. It also is less expensive to manufacture and is less susceptible to radiation damage in space, which enables affordable and practical use in spacecraft. Photobit, an entrepreneurial spin-off company of JPL, has applied this revolutionary solid state image sensor technology to new markets where small size and low power consumption are needed such as digital cameras, PC video conferencing, camcorders, and portable PC video phones. Other applications are found in the automotive industry where the APS can provide night vision enhancement systems for automobiles and in the medical industry for bone and dental x-rays. Acquisition of images through APS technology has reduced x-ray exposures from 90 to 99% in a couple of these medical and dental applications.
What had been a costly technology for evaluating bone density is now affordable to physicians and accessible to patients with a simple 30-second test that produces no discomfort. Also, for dentists, digital feedback of dental images can now replace conventional x-ray film and produce sharp images that appear almost instantly on a computer monitor. Further, these images are easier to store than x-ray film, and can be manipulated, colorized, and enhanced to provide additional information.
About one decade ago, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), then the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, funded Silicon Designs to develop radiation-hardened accelerometers for kinetic energy vehicles to measure the change in velocity resulting from rocket motor firings that occur while changing trajectory. Smaller than a person's thumbnail, these devices have very low power requirements and can operate over a wide temperature range and after being exposed to space radiation for long periods of time.
The accelerometer contains two major components: a micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) sense element die or chip and an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). Sense elements, which detect acceleration, are fabricated on the surface of a wafer. Then the radiation-hard integrated circuits measure and digitize the acceleration detected by the sense element. Due to its small size, low cost, low power consumption, and ability to operate over a wide temperature range, the accelerometer is ideal for several applications in the automotive, heavy industry, and military areas.
These devices are currently used in the Patriot missile interceptors and for oil drilling applications (the same design features that make it radiation insensitive also allow it to work in the severe environments found at the bottom of a 10,000-foot oil well). In addition, through licensing agreements, the accelerometers have been modified for use as air bag sensors and are in about half the automobiles sold in the United States today. The miniature accelerometer forms the basis of a crash sensor that is superior to the mechanical devices found in previous air bag designs.
Proper heart rhythms can often be reestablished by the sudden discharge of stored energy in this pulsed-power device which uses a capacitor originally developed for space-based lasers and accelerators. In the mid-1980's, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) funded a company now named Maxwell Technologies to develop a high energy-density thin-film capacitor - a device that stores and discharges energy. Since then, derivatives of this technology are being applied in pulsed-power devices to purify water, sterilize medical products, preserve food, and power heart defibrillators.
At present, it is estimated that fewer than one-third of ambulances is equipped with defibrillators and about 15% of fire department emergency response vehicles carry these life-saving devices. Equipping more emergency personnel with capacitor-based portable heart defibrillators would result in saving lives and is a goal of medical supply companies like Zoll Medical Corporation who are partnering with Maxwell Technologies.