Medical Simulation in Space: How Serious Gaming is Training Astronauts

Medical gaming company Level Ex is working with NASA to virtually simulate how the human body is affected by space. The model will help to train astronauts to deal with emergency medical situations during missions. Allie Nawrat of recently reported on how the space simulation works and why a solution is needed as NASA looks towards longer missions to Mars. Full story linked below this excerpt from Allie:

Space flight causes astronauts’ bodies to undergo extreme stress, putting them at heightened risk of developing diseases and experiencing severe medical complications. Although the negative effects of space on the human body have long been known, NASA is now investigating how much higher the risks are to an astronaut’s health are when they undertake longer missions than a six-month stint on the international space station. Deep space missions, such as a journey to Mars, also require new methods to deal with medical emergencies quickly as communication channels become much too slow when astronauts venture away from the space station.

To support astronauts in dealing with medical emergencies themselves, US-based medical gaming company Level Ex has received an undisclosed grant from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) to virtually simulate how the human body changes and is affected by space. This model will be used to train astronauts to treat diseases and perform medical procedures without needing to wait for an hour to receive instructions from mission control.

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Lack of, or zero, gravity and consequential long-term weightlessness has serious adverse effects on the bodies of astronauts, including muscle atrophy in the heart due to a loss of fluid volume and the deterioration of the skeleton as bones and muscles lose mass. These effects were revealed by NASA’s comparative study of astronaut Scott Kelly and his twin brother Mark. The one-year trial found that Scott developed a thickening in his retina and in his carotid artery, compared to Mark who stayed on earth. He also experienced damage to his DNA and changes in gene expression, the long-term effects of which are unknown.

In addition to heightened strain on the heart and muscle wasting, Level Ex vice-president and medical director Eric Gantwerker notes that astronauts experience increased intracranial pressure, especially while in deep space. This has “a lot of downstream effects, such as on the eye, which can cause vision changes.” Another example pointed out by Gantwerker are another gravity dependent system, the kidneys. “Because the bones of the body don’t react well to low-gravity, and they actually re-form and a lot of the calcium gets pulled from the bones, put back into the bloodstream, and the kidney has a process that,” he explains.

Building upon LevelEx’s belief that “games have perfected [medical training],” since they “give you just enough ability to face a certain challenge and motivate you to keep going forward [by] upping the challenge at every turn,” as Gantwerker explains, the company is “eager to apply the work we’ve done to another critically important area of healthcare,” as CEO Sam Glassenberg told ZD Net. The company has leveraged NASA’s extensive research and data on how human bodies are effected by space, and will combine this with its cutting edge gaming technology – particularly cisco simulators and fluid dynamics – to model and recreate emergency medical scenarios unique to space.

This virtual environment will be able to “train [astronauts] on something that they have never seen before.” This is especially important as astronauts venture into deep space and the “communication turnaround is 40 minutes there and 40 minutes back; that’s too long to wait in an emergency scenario,” Gantwerker notes.

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Read the Full Article on Space Medicine Here!

About Level Ex

Level Ex creates industry-leading mobile, AR, and VR games for physicians. The company uses state-of-the-art video game technology and cognitive neuroscience to capture the challenges of practicing medicine—revolutionizing the way physicians keep up-to-speed on rare and challenging cases, new medical devices, and drug therapies to stay sharp in their specialties.

Level Ex’s medical video games—played by 500,000 healthcare professionals and leveraged by top 20 pharmaceutical and medical device companies and medical societies—offer CME credits and are available free for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

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