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EDITIONS
 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 00:17 GMT
Space holds medical secrets
Astronauts working on the International Space Station
Astronauts working on the International Space Station
Space could help doctors improve intensive care treatment by showing how the human body behaves under extreme conditions.

Dr Kevin Fong, a British doctor who has trained at Nasa, told BBC News Online: "We are looking at the extreme physical environment in space.

"What happens if you take a human being and put them on the edge of their survival curve?

"There's not much oxygen, it's very cold or very hot. What are the limits of physical endurance? When do you need to take over and support them?

"The science of astronaut survival is how you take a human being from the comfort of living with lots of oxygen, and plenty of food and water then send them into an environment that doesn't support life at all, not even for a few seconds.

What are the limits of physical endurance?

Dr Kevin Fong
"The challenge is taking human biology and physiology and putting it in that environment, and keeping it there."

And he said studying space could help doctors understand how the body works on Earth.

"There are very many parallels with what we do in intensive care where patients are in a very extreme condition."

Mars mission

He said research in space could also help understand how drugs work.

Mars
How will the human body cope with 1,000 day expeditions to Mars?
A special technique called crystallography can be used much more effectively in space.

It allows scientists to more clearly see the molecular structure of a drug, showing them how it works.

And he said Nasa had been approached to help in research into anti-Aids drugs.

Dr Fong is also looking at how the human body will be affected by expeditions to Mars - which could last up to 1,000 days.

He added: "If humans are going to go to Mars in the future, how we cope with that?"

Everest expedition

The team at the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, also looks at how the body behaves in different extreme situations such as polar expeditions and diving.

Dr Fong, who also specialises in anaesthetics and intensive care medicine, said: "Decompression situations and cardiac bypass operations are similar in that the bubbling in decompression is similar to a phenomenon in bypass."

He has been given a 75,000 grant from Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to allow him to carry on with his research.

Dr Fong hopes the money will allow him to return to Nasa to carry out further research, and also to fund an expedition to Everest.

A spokesman for Nesta said: "We are delighted to be supporting such a talented individual whose cross-disciplinary work in space biomedical research is ground-breaking."

See also:

19 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
30 Aug 02 | Scotland
31 Aug 01 | Health
12 Jul 00 | Health
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