Nation's effort to protect astronaut health gets boost with new CSM, NSBRI facility

April 1, 2012

From left, Michael Coats, Dr. Paul Klotman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dr. Jeffrey Sutton, David Leebron and Dr. Bobby Alford cut the ribbon at the new NSBRI and Center for Space Medicine facility
From left, Michael Coats, Dr. Paul Klotman, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Dr. Jeffrey Sutton, David Leebron and Dr. Bobby Alford cut the ribbon at the new NSBRI and Center for Space Medicine facility.

Houston strengthened its global leadership role in space biomedical research and space medicine training on March 19 with the official opening of the Consolidated Research Facility. This new 16,400-square-foot facility serves as the home for Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Space Medicine and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. BCM is the lead institution of NSBRI.

Ribbon cutting and award

The event featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony and demonstrations of NSBRI and CSM science, technology and education projects. Among those in attendance were BCM President and CEO Dr. Paul Klotman, Rice University President David Leebron, NASA Johnson Space Center Director Michael Coats, NSBRI Chairman of the Board Dr. Bobby Alford and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The senior senator from Texas also received the NSBRI Pioneer Award for her contributions to the advancement of human spaceflight, including space biomedical research.

The facility, located in the BioScience Research Collaborative on the Rice University campus, is the result of a unique collaboration between BCM, NSBRI, Rice and NASA. CSM Director Dr. Jeffrey P. Sutton, who is also the NSBRI president and CEO, said the facility is an asset not only to Houston but also to the nation.

"The concept of a Consolidated Research Facility was enthusiastically endorsed by BCM, Rice, NSBRI and NASA," he said. "The facility transforms NSBRI and CSM by providing reconfigurable laboratories to demonstrate and accelerate progress on projects and promote on-site interactions among NSBRI, NASA, CSM, and other academic, industry and government collaborators.

"It draws leading scientists, engineers and physicians to Houston to work on some of the most interesting and challenging problems of our time at the intersection of space, medicine and technology."

The facility includes office space, four laboratories, meeting rooms and science and education collaboration areas. In addition to its functional capabilities, the facility has also received recognition for its architecture as being named a finalist in the medical category for the Houston Business Journal's 2012 Landmark Awards for its unique design.

Earth applications

Dr. Bill Thompson of BCM talks to Dr. Jeffrey Sutton and Sen. Hutchison about the Butterflies in Space Project.
Dr. Bill Thompson of BCM talks to Dr. Jeffrey Sutton and Sen. Hutchison about the Butterflies in Space Project.

Another interesting aspect of the facility is that it overlooks Rice Stadium, where President John F. Kennedy inspired the whole nation almost 50 years ago with his famous "to the Moon" speech, during which he said the pursuit of that human spaceflight endeavor would benefit life on Earth. These benefits were exemplified by the projects on display during the opening event.

For example, an NSBRI research project based at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit developed techniques that streamline user training and helps experts on the ground guide non-physician astronauts in space to perform diagnostic-quality ultrasound exams. The research team also developed an ultrasound imagery catalog of the human body in space. The techniques and a spin-off catalog are already in use on Earth.

Another NSBRI ultrasound project, based at the University of Washington, developed technology that detects kidney stones with ultrasound imaging and provides treatment by pushing stones with focused ultrasound toward the kidney's exit so they will pass naturally. This technology, which is now waiting for FDA approval to begin clinical trials, could alter the way kidney stones are treated on Earth.

Unique consortium

NSBRI, funded by NASA, is a consortium of institutions studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight and developing the medical technologies needed for long missions. NSBRI's science, technology and education projects take place at more than 60 institutions across the United States. BCM is the lead institution of the consortium, which also includes Rice.

CSM the first academic entity of its kind in the world, bringing together faculty, residents, students and staff from multiple departments to contribute cutting-edge advances to science, technology, medicine and education. It serves as an academic home for physician-astronauts, flight surgeons and other experts in space medicine. A Space Medicine Track offers electives throughout all four years of BCM medical education.