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NASA 'Lab-on-a-Chip' technology to begin journey to spacestation



SUBMITTED BY ARTHUR N1ORC - AMSAT A/C #31468
> Steve Roy	                                 December 4, 2006
> Marshall Space Flight Center
> Huntsville, Ala.
> Phone: (256) 544-0034
>
>
> NASA "LAB-ON-A-CHIP" TECHNOLOGY TO BEGIN JOURNEY TO SPACE STATION
>
> A unique, state-of-the-art science instrument -- one that could
> revolutionize how astronauts conduct chemical and biological research in
> space -- awaits launch this week aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.
>
> Developed by a science team led by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
> in Huntsville, Ala., the Lab-On-a-Chip Application Development Portable
> Test System, or LOCAD-PTS, is part of the STS-116 mission's science
> payload, bound Dec. 7 for the International Space Station.
>
> The hand-portable detection system includes a handheld diagnostic reader
> and set of instruments small enough to fit into a compact ice cooler.
> The system will help astronaut-scientists perform biological studies
> necessary for an extended human presence in space, from crew health and
> spacecraft environmental studies to the search for life on other worlds.
> Initially, it will provide rapid analysis to determine if certain types
> of bacteria are present on various space station surfaces. In the
> future, interchangeable system components will enable station crews to
> monitor their environment for contaminants such as yeast, mold and,
> eventually, more virulent and potentially harmful bacteria -- such as E.
> coli and salmonella. 
>
> On the space station, the system will be tested in spring of 2007 by
> crew members, who will conduct surface-swabbing experiments to determine
> the system's effectiveness. In 2008, researchers will augment the system
> by delivering an air sampler unit that will permit station crew to
> evaluate air, as well as station surfaces, for contamination. The
> results will help NASA researchers refine the technology for future moon
> and Mars missions.
>
> The compact system, which incorporates interchangeable cartridges, is
> designed to serve as a mobile laboratory requiring minimal additional
> resources. The handheld unit weighs a mere six pounds. It is driven by
> technology developed by Charles River Laboratories of Wilmington, Mass.,
> and modified for space applications by researchers at the Marshall
> Center. 
>
> "Because the system is small, lightweight and portable, it is a unique
> tool that can be placed directly in astronauts' hands, improving the
> speed at which they can get data from days to minutes," said Ginger
> Flores, LOCAD-PTS project manager at the Marshall Center. 
>
> The Marshall-led science team will continue to manage the research
> experiment once the system reaches the space station, providing
> operational oversight from a console in the Payload Operations Center,
> the Marshall-based hub for all space station science communications. 
>
> Flying the portable detection system will pave the way for further
> development of science equipment that makes use of lab-on-a-chip
> technology, Flores said -- particularly applications that require such
> equipment to endure the harsh, unforgiving environment of space. 
>
> "This team of scientists and engineers has enjoyed a unique and
> successful collaboration with industry to streamline the process of
> preparing a commercial instrument for space," Flores said. "The
> commitment of the team to furthering the role of humans in space is
> evident in their dedication to this project."
>
> On Earth, commercially adapted lab-on-a-chip technology is already in
> use in a variety of medical diagnostic applications, such as in-office
> strep tests. In space, astronauts use the lab-on-a-chip-based Portable
> Clinical Blood Analyzer to take blood samples, checking for proper
> levels of potassium, sodium and glucose during missions. 
>
> Lab-on-a-chip technology allows chemical and biological processes --
> previously requiring large pieces of laboratory equipment -- to be
> performed on small plates etched with fluid channels called capillaries.
> Using these channels, chemicals and fluid samples can be mixed, diluted,
> separated and controlled for study. 
>
> NASA researchers are developing complex, portable and lightweight
> diagnostic chips to detect specific types of organisms, including
> shipboard bacteria and interesting molecular structures found in alien
> environments. Lab-on-a-chip instrumentation also can be adapted to
> monitor crew health and the environment inside their space exploration
> vehicle. Crew members on the space station, for example, will be able to
> rapidly assess microorganisms found on the orbiting science facility,
> helping to maintain a sterile research environment and clean air and
> water supplies. 
>
> Because the chips are small, a large number of them can be carried on a
> Mars rover to search for life or carried on long-duration human
> exploration missions for monitoring microbes inside lunar or Martian
> habitats.
>
> "The information gained from this flight demonstration will be used to
> develop even more mature technology, enabling researchers to perform
> thousands of tests simultaneously in the space environment," said Dr.
> Lisa Monaco, lead scientist for LOCAD at Marshall. "Such a platform will
> enable space-based explorers to perform environmental tests, conduct
> crew health studies and support the search for life on Mars." 
>
> The LOCAD team at the Marshall Center is collaborating with scientists
> at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, a private research
> organization, and with other NASA centers and industry partners to
> design chips for a variety of research and exploration applications,
> including the identification of microbes in self-contained life support
> systems. The lab-on-a-chip flight experiment is funded by NASA's
> Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.
>
> For more information about lab-on-a-chip technology and NASA's LOCAD
> project, visit:
>
> http://exploration.nasa.gov/programs/station/LOCAD-PTS.html 
>
> -end-
>
> ON THE WEB
>
> Photos:
> http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/multimedia/photos/2006/photos06-138
> .html   
>
>
>
>   
----
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