NASA Spinoff

Neurospinal Screening Evaluates Nerve Function

When in the zero-gravity environment of space, an astronaut realizes quickly that most motions require significantly less effort, and the body adjusts itself to the new environment so that a simple act like putting in a contact lens does not result in a sharp poke in the eye or clapping of hands does not shatter fingers. This adaptability is useful and necessary while in orbit, and the body quickly becomes accustomed to the zero-gravity conditions of space flight, but without the everyday weight of gravity that we often take for granted providing resistance, muscle tissue tends to atrophy. In fact, a space traveler often experiences a feeling of heaviness, of an additional weight on the body, upon returning from space. The condition is similar to the degeneration of muscle seen in bedridden patients and the elderly.

Naturally, NASA is invested in researching this phenomenon and has undertaken many studies toward understanding this hazard and finding methods by which it can be combated. One of the tools employed by the Space Agency is surface electromyography (SEMG), a noninvasive method for analyzing and recording the conditions of muscles while at rest and in use. SEMG uses, as the name implies, surface electrodes to monitor and graph muscle activity.

Partnership

NASA funded a study in which researchers from Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used SEMG to measure the muscle activity of astronauts during strenuous activities directly before and after space shuttle missions. The research, done at the NeuroMuscular Research Center at Boston University under the direction of engineer Lee Brody, resulted in the design and implementation of two experimental protocols. To determine and map changes in muscles of shuttle astronauts, the team designed a protocol to measure signals from a leg muscle during a series of exercises.

or the other project, the team designed a measurement technique and accompanying software to test different designs for the gloves astronauts would wear during space walks. The gloves astronauts were using previously led to extreme hand and forearm fatigue while they conducted repairs and other tasks that required precision hand use. The newer gloves alleviate these conditions.

Since completing the NASA-funded research projects, Brody has found additional applications for the methods and techniques he learned during the experiments. He is now the chief engineer for the Chiropractic Leadership Alliance (CLA), of Mahwah, New Jersey, a professional organization serving the chiropractic community.