International Space Station Benefits for Humanity

Are you asthmatic? Your new helper comes from space

Kalle, a 10-year-old boy, is already in favor of space technology. In the future, he could control his asthma with a small device also used by crewmembers on board the International Space Station. Because of it, he knows almost everything about nitric oxide – an important gas we all breathe out.

Nitric oxide, or nitrogen monoxide as it is properly called, is both a good and bad molecule, found almost everywhere. An air pollutant that is produced by vehicle exhaust and industrial processes burning fuel, nitric oxide is a contributor to the damage of the ozone layer and easily converts into nitric acid – which may fall as acid rain.

Intriguingly, tiny amounts are released locally in inflamed tissue in humans and other mammals. Tracing it back to its source can reveal different diseases. In asthma, inflammation in the lung adds nitric oxide to exhaled air. Measuring the gas can help to diagnose the disease or prevent attacks by adjusting medication.

Nitric oxide is also an interesting molecule on the space station. Dust and small particles floating around in weightlessness can be inhaled by the astronauts, possibly triggering inflammation of the airways. It also plays a role in decompression sickness that may arise from spacewalks.

The European Space Agency or ESA uses a lightweight, easy-to-use, accurate device for measuring nitric oxide in exhaled air. The aim is to investigate possible airway inflammation in astronauts and act before it becomes a health problem.

Following development by the Swedish company Aerocrine AB and ESA, this device has found beneficial in space exploration and everyday use on Earth. NIOX MINO® is now used by patients like Kalle at health centres. They can monitor levels of asthma control and the efficiency of medication – leading to more accurate dosing, reduced attacks and improved quality of life.

For further information, please contact:

Lars Karlsson and Lars Gustafsson
Karoliniska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
Dept of Physiology and Pharmacology
Karolinska Institutet
Nanna Svartz väg 2
S-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
Tel. +46 8 524 868 90

By: The European Space Agency