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Thales and Université Laval to improve astronauts’ medical autonomy for future missions to Mars

A team of scientists from Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine and experts from Thales Research and Technology (TRT) have been selected by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to develop a computerized medical condition knowledge base and mission-planning support tool. This tool will provide guidance to the CSA on technology needs to improve astronauts' medical autonomy in preparation for future missions to Mars.

Due to distance, a radio signal between Earth and the crew of a ship en route to Mars can be delayed by as much as 22 minutes. It is crucial for the crew to be able to rely on a decision support system that will guide them in diagnosing, treating and managing emergency medical conditions independently from the medical team on the ground. This tool will help define the requirements for such a system.

"The first phase of the project involved developing a list of medical emergencies to be prioritized," said project collaborator Dr. Neal Pollock, professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval, researcher in hyperbaric medicine at the Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis hospital, CISSS Chaudière-Appalaches. “We developed a grid taking into account factors such as the probability of occurrence, the importance of rapid management, the potential impact on the continuation of the mission and the level of contagion.”

Over 100 medical conditions have been assessed, including heart attack, septic shock, pulmonary embolism, detachment of the retina, and perforation of an eye. "We’ve also included pathologies that have a higher probability of occurring in space, such as kidney stones and vision deficits caused by increased intracranial pressure," explained Dr. Patrick Archambault, professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval and emergency physician at Hôtel-Dieu de Lévis Hospital, CISSS Chaudière-Appalaches.

"We will have to pay particular attention to the equipment, skills and knowledge constraints necessary for medical autonomy in space exploration missions," added Dr. Caroline Rhéaume, professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Université Laval and family physician at GMF-U Quatre-Bourgeois, CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale. 

“As a leading contributor to research and development in Canada, Thales is proud to support the CSA’s preparation for a future mission to the Red Planet,” said Martin Rivest, Director of Thales TRT. “Using MYRIAD, an advanced multi-criteria decision support tool, we will be able to provide our medical colleagues at Université Laval and our partners a manageable way to prioritize medical conditions for medical autonomy in space exploration missions.”

In the coming months, researchers will evaluate, organize and prioritize evidence-based knowledge to enable a crew to independently treat medical emergencies in space. The project’s expected completion date is April 2019.