The European Space Agency (ESA) is working on a prototype device that will be able to screen astronauts on the International Space Station for multiple diseases and medical conditions with just a single drop of blood. The instrument is being developed in partnership with the Irish company Radisens Diagnostic, which already produces a version of the proposed device for use here on Earth.Astronauts stationed on the International Space Station (ISS) can’t exactly swing by the doctor’s office to have tests done, and sending blood samples back to Earth isn’t really feasible. So any in-depth health monitoring on these extended postings has to be done on-site, but the ISS doesn’t have room for a full medical laboratory. The device from Radisens Diagnostic uses a small disc that spins to separate the solid and liquid components of blood — it’s basically a tiny centrifuge. The liquid plasma diffuses into various testing chambers on the disc, which are then used to run tests.
The Earth-bound version of Radisens Diagnostic’s technology has small cartridges for the instrument that can be used to test the drop of blood for markers in heart disease, liver function, cancers, diabetes, and more. The company says it shouldn’t be any problem to adapt the technology to a weightless environment. Centrifugation of the blood sample should work just as well without the constant pull of gravity. That’s a lot more useful than a fancy coffee maker.
Astronauts on long-term space missions contend with a variety of health risks that require close medical monitoring. At the same time, the remote telemetry being fed back to controllers on the ground only allows for the most basic level of medical oversight. A device like the one being developed by Radisens Diagnostic could run a suite of tests specific to the issues affecting astronauts and offer results almost immediately. There is no firm timeline for deployment of the device to the ISS just yet.