NUI Galway-based clinician Dr Derek O’Keeffe will participate in a live, public, video link-up with the crew aboard NASA’s Aquarius undersea research station next week. Dr O’Keeffe, a clinical fellow at NUI Galway, has been selected as the flight surgeon for telemedicine for the mission.
The video link-up will take place on Friday July 22, and will be preceded by a public talk on telemedicine at 12 noon in the Clinical Science Institute at NUI Galway.
The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO ) is sending a group of six astronauts, engineers, and scientists to live aboard the Aquarius habitat, 20 metres under the sea off the Florida coast, for three weeks from next week.
As an expert in telemedicine, Dr O’Keeffe will be remotely monitoring the ‘Aquanauts’ during their undersea experience as an official part of the NEEMO mission.
Dr O’Keeffe holds dual biomedical engineering and medical qualifications and is an expert in state of the art remote monitoring technology, with a successful track record in prior spaceflight and extreme environment missions.
He will oversee the Aquanauts’ physiological parameters during their undersea experience and use this information to monitor crew health and to facilitate mission critical decisions, such as extra vehicular activities. In addition he will run several staged health emergency scenarios (eg, cardiac/respiratory arrest ) to evaluate and develop remote crisis response protocols.
Dr O’Keeffe will be working with his fellow Irish colleague Dr Marc Ó Gríofa, who has been chosen as one of six crew members on the NEEMO Mission from July 18.
“The Aquarius habitat and its surroundings provide a convincing analogue for space exploration,” Dr O’Keeffe said. “NASA are also carrying out similar missions in other extreme environments, such as deserts, icefields, and volcanoes around the world. Telemedicine provides us with the ability to monitor in real-time the Aquanauts’ vitals. We can alert them if for some reason their heart rate goes too high or their blood pressure goes too low.
“Telemedicine is already opening up exciting new frontiers in our everyday lives, such as providing remote care to patients in medically underserved areas,” he added. “In addition it is currently being used experimentally in novel healthcare applications such as chronic disease home monitoring. For example, this allows doctors to track parameters such as blood glucose or bodyweight patterns, which allows them to make clinical decisions to intervene early if required. This would prevent patients with diabetes or heart failure from deteriorating and therefore improve care and ultimately prevent a hospital admission.”
According to Dr O’Keeffe, such remote monitoring could be standard care for patients with some chronic diseases in 10 years’ time, and could also be used for continuous monitoring of patients in hospitals.
For more information on the NEEMO project see www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/NEEMO/index html