Bio-Analyzer: Near-real-time biomedical results from space to Earth

Health Science

The Bio-Analyzer is a new tool the size of a videogame console that astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will use to easily test different body fluids such as blood, saliva, and urine. Using just a few drops of liquid—no big needles required!—it quickly returns key biomedical analyses.

The Bio-Analyzer on the International Space Station. The Canadian technology was turned on on-orbit for the first time by Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques in . (Credits : CSA/NASA.)

Background

In space, astronauts often have to draw multiple tubes of their own blood as part of science experiments. Because room is limited on returning cargo spacecraft, these tubes are commonly brought to Earth for analysis only months later.

Before the Bio-Analyzer, astronauts had to store their blood in a small freezer on the ISS. Although it decreases sample quality, freezing remained a necessary step because on-board testing did not yet exist.

The Bio-Analyzer can provide test results from space within two to three hours, thus reducing the need to freeze and return samples. Thanks to this on-board instrument, scientists will gain much faster access to scientific data. In the future, the Canadian technology could also help monitor astronauts' health throughout their missions on board the Station.

Objectives

By processing samples on board the ISS, the Bio-Analyzer:

 Impacts on Earth

The Bio-Analyzer's technology has the potential to improve patient care on Earth. Shorter wait times for test results could improve the lives of thousands of Canadians, notably those who have health conditions like heart disease, anemia, or immune disorders. Frequent blood tests are vital to the management of these illnesses.

The device's portability could help emergency crews working in disaster relief situations. Medical professionals in remote and rural areas could also benefit from this technology to easily and affordably test patients on site.

How it works

  1. The astronaut takes a sample of blood, urine, or saliva for testing.
  2. The astronaut loads it into the device.
  3. Within minutes, the Bio-Analyzer measures several categories of biological information, for example, the concentration of specific types of blood cells, or the levels of specific proteins.
  4. Scientists at Canadian Space Agency headquarters receive the Bio-Analyzer's results through the ISS communications system and transfer them to the researcher.

Blood testing gives doctors and scientists a closer look at many cells and biomarkers in the blood that can be associated with different diseases or disorders. By observing cell numbers and biomarker levels, medical professionals can intervene quickly and prevent serious illness.

Dr. Ian D'Souza, research and development scientist at Honeywell Aerospace, explains the Bio-Analyzer, a liquid sample analysis device being tested on board the International Space Station. The Bio-Analyzer will help astronauts accelerate the process of scientific data collection. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)

Transcript

Timeline

The Bio-Analyzer was flown to the ISS in on a Cygnus cargo ship. Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques performed tests with the Bio-Analyzer in .

Developers

Honeywell (COM DEV), of Cambridge, Ontario, is the prime contractor for the Bio-Analyzer. They have led the design of the overall system, developed the optical reader for the lab-on-a-chip, and integrated the core subsystems for use in space.

Alentic Microscience, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, designed and developed the Bio-Analyzer's compact cell analysis subsystem, incorporating its innovative lensless microscopy technology.

Sensoreal, of Montreal, Quebec, designed the Bio-Analyzer's lab-on-a-chip, a microfluidic device for protein biomarker measurements.

Xiphos Technologies, based in Montreal, Quebec, developed the Q7 computational platform that operates the Bio-Analyzer, runs the bio-analysis programs, and communicates with the ISS to transmit test results back to Earth.

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