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Center Innovation Fund: JSC CIF

Novel Musculoskeletal Loading and Assessment System (MLS)

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Functionally limiting decrements in musculoskeletal health and sensorimotor function are likely during exploration class missions given extended transit times and exploration vehicle mass and volume limitations for biomedical countermeasures. With 2016 IRD funding we developed and tested the novel musculoskeletal loading system (MLS, Fig 1). This innovative device optimizes resistance exercise training capabilities of pre-existing small exercise devices designed for exploration class missions. The 4 main objectives in the FY’17 effort include: 1) develop the “SmartBar” by improving the MLS bar electronics (i.e. installing IMU systems, load cells, and improved Bluetooth technology); 2) ruggedize the MLS and fabricate a telescoping bar; 3) add sensorimotor assessment/countermeasures capabilities using the WalkasinsTM system;  4) develop a novel data processing platform to integrate sensor, load, and positional data to assess sensorimotor function and provide a surrogate measure of ground reaction force. These updates will provide novel capabilities that are not currently available on ISS or planned for exploration class missions, and could provide superior protection and assessment capabilities for astronauts’ musculoskeletal and sensorimotor health. 

 

 

Decrements in musculoskeletal health and sensorimotor function occur rapidly and cause severe performance decrements during and after spaceflight that will impact crews’ ability to carry out mission critical tasks. There is not currently a single hardware device available to assess changes in or prevent losses in these physiological systems on ISS or one planned for exploration class missions. Our goal is to provide an integrated musculoskeletal and sensorimotor countermeasure and assessment tool to protect crew health and safety during exploration class missions. Our MLS team includes collaborators that have developed the ground based “state of the art” devices and knowledge in sensorimotor and exercise device testing and countermeasure development for clinical population and spaceflight, respectively. As a team of subject matter experts, we are developing a “state of the art” device for multi-physiological system protection during exposure to microgravity.

This proposal strategically aligns with EMC and addresses HAT need 6.3.d-E, which calls out the need for development of small exercise equipment that can prevent musculoskeletal atrophy and assess musculoskeletal health during long-duration spaceflight; and HAT need 6.3.c-E, which calls for the ability to asses sensorimotor function and provide rehabilitation.

The MLS innovation is a unique effort and not duplicative of other industry efforts. Testing and training sensorimotor function during exploration missions, without treadmill availability for ambulation, and within limited volume provides a very unique set of challenges that is not currently being explored by other efforts. Additionally the MLS “SmartBar” will provide the unique ability to assess exercise form, range of motion, and load without the added mass of force plates or requirement of a powered exercise device. A timely completion of this innovative effort will require parallel work efforts from collaborators in accomplishing the key objectives described in slide 1. Key milestones in this effort include 1) completion of the objectives detailed in slide 1; 2) engineering fit and function evaluations; 3) human in the loop testing, and 4) final presentation and closeout report.

Key technical challenges in this effort include packaging the electronic bar assembly in a small space, developing the software interface to control the vibration sensors in the Walkasins system, integrating data from the “SmartBar” and the Walkasins system develop a novel data processing platform to assess sensorimotor function, exercise form, and provide a surrogate measure of ground reaction force.

The product of this effort will be a novel light weight and compact MLS that attaches to a single-cable exercise device to allow full body loading and assessment of muscle strength and sensorimotor health in order to protect astronauts health during long duration exploration class missions. Our innovative device will protect the crew without significantly adding to the mass and volume of current small exercise device candidates for MPCV and exploration vehicles.
Upon successful demonstration, the team will ensure integration of hardware and project outcomes with HRP’s MPCV strategic plan. Further funding of this system for flight certification and an ISS technology demonstration will be requested from HRP in coordination with HRP’s Advanced Exercise Concepts Project, which will initiate in 2016.

Efforts related to MLS development and testing are planned beyond this funding effort. Study results and development efforts will be shared with multiple groups within NASA aimed at developing exploration exercise device concepts and physiological assessment and countermeasure tools. Upon completion of this years work the MLS “SmartBar” component will be further tested via use in the BAA Hab evaluations. The MLS will be tested in parabolic flight when flight opportunities become available. Development of the software interface to control the Walkasins will be implemented in future clinical trials as a part of advancement and FDA approval efforts of the Walkasins device. University of Houston collaborators intend to pursue this line of research via funding opportunities internal to UH.  

The different facets of the MLS lend well to technology maturation efforts for commercial, clinical, and spaceflight use. The combined “SmartBar” and Walkasins data provide a novel method to assess exercise form, load, and sensorimotor health in a single platform. Further development of this system will be needed to define thresholds or tests that could be used in clinical populations or in astronauts exposed to microgravity for long durations. Support in these research maturation efforts could enable MLS use in planned evaluations of exploration class exercise devices on ISS.

 

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