Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1979


August 15, 1995

Ann Hutchison Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (Phone: 415/604-4968) RELEASE: 95-137 SPACE AGE SENSOR HELPS SAVE INFANTS' LIVES NASA and the University of California at San Francisco are collaborating to apply medical sensor technology to save the lives of newborn children and reduce medical costs. Pediatric surgeons at the university's Fetal Treatment Center (FTC) are using biosensor and telemetry technology from NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, to monitor the condition of fetuses with life-threatening congenital conditions. A biosensor is a device that measures medical, biological, physiological or biochemical parameters. Telemetry is the transmission of various measurements to a distant recording device. "The technology is fabulous," said FTC director Michael Harrison, M.D. "The whole concept of using telemetry is a revolution that we desperately need for treating fetal defects." Harrison said existing monitoring devices, while useful, cannot provide the continuous fetal monitoring physicians need. He said there is an urgent need for a continuous monitor of fetal heart rate and intra-uterine pressure that is practical for use in both hospital and outpatient settings. Harrison believes this type of continuous monitoring of physiologic parameters by a portable, hand-held device would be "an incredible advance" for fetal surgery. "Many of NASA's requirements for biosensor and telemetry technology have direct application to medical and surgical needs on Earth," said John W. Hines, manager of Ames' Sensors 2000 program. The program develops biosensor and telemetry technology to monitor the health of astronauts in space.

Harrison and other FTC surgeons have pioneered the use of advanced surgical procedures to correct congenital defects in human fetal patients. One such condition, for example, is a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the diaphragm that allows internal organs to shift from the abdominal cavity into the chest cavity. The result is less space for the lungs to develop. About 75 percent of children with diaphragmatic hernias die, according to Harrison. -more-2The procedure involves exposure of the fetus by cesarean section and surgical correction of the congenital defect. Surgeons then implant a biotransmitter and sensors under the fetus' skin or in the uterus. The sensors measure fetal heart rate and pressure within the uterus. "Monitoring the status of the fetus during and after surgery is critical to the success of this procedure," Harrison said. Once the infant is stable after birth, surgeons remove the sensors and transmitter. Conventional treatment of fetal diaphragmatic hernia can cost as much as $1 million, including a hospital stay of up to six months. The FTC procedure costs only slightly more than a standard cesarean section and requires just a two-week hospital stay for the infant. Ames also is working with the FTC to expand its fetal monitoring capability by developing a small, lightweight, portable fetal health status monitor. This would allow a pregnant mother to monitor her baby outside the hospital, with data sent to an external recording device for later analysis. FTC surgeons said the advanced technology also may some day benefit all critically ill patients by eliminating the need to run repeated tests to analyze a patient's condition. NASA's advanced technology initiative was designed to provide biosensor and bio-instrumentation systems technology expertise to the Agency's life sciences programs. These technologies are of interest to NASA as a way of continuously monitoring an astronaut's adaptation to microgravity. The

initiative is managed by Ames for NASA's Office of Life and Microgravity Sciences and Applications. -endNASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to domo@hq.nasa.gov. In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe pressrelease" (no quotes). The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second automatic message will include additional information on the service. Questions should be directed to (202) 358-4043.