Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 95

Supplementary submission from Dr Robert Marchbanks (BNSC)


  In response to the above, I feel that the benefits to SME's of investing in Space Medicine does not appear to have obtained the emphasis it deserves. In response to Dr Spink's question (Q465), Mr Gourlay outlined our collaboration with NASA to provide a non-invasive (non-surgical) means of measuring intracranial pressure (ICP). The relatively small amount of funding received by ourselves from NASA, as mentioned by Mr Gourlay (Q485), should be seen in a wider context since working as part of an international team, the total value of the work far exceeds this amount. Meeting the regulatory requirements for the European CE Mark and for US FDA registration, entails much documentation for design and quality control. This documentation is the main part of the work effort and was undertaken by the NASA and Lockheed engineers. As an SME, we have greatly benefited by working with these engineers and their skills have now been transferred to my company. These skills are immediately applicable and furthermore, the documentation is precisely as required to meet Earth-based regulatory requirements for our medical device. My company is not alone in benefiting in this way, since I know of several US and European medical companies that have equipment aboard the International Space Station. I would like to stress the immediacy of this "win-win" scenario, where money and expertise invested in space medicine is directly transferable to earth-based gains. Applications go well beyond just anaesthesiology.

  With reference to Adam Afriyie question (Q473) and Dr Fong's response. The return on investment goes beyond gains made by the SME outlined above. I believe medicine itself has much to benefit since Space provides a unique environment to study human physiology. The Space environment challenges our misconceptions and potentially provides conceptual leaps in our medical knowledge. Our own experiment is an example of this. The space agencies world-wide have spend several $100 millions on attempting to understand space adaptation syndrome (space sickness) and the disorientation felt by the space traveller that involves their balance system. Yet with all this expenditure and effort much of which has been through earth-based experiments, the causes remain illusive. There is strong reason to believe that it is a lack of understanding of certain fundamental principles of human physiology that is at fault—misconceptions are providing the barriers both for earth and space-based medicine. Space medicine and Space life experiments challenge our understanding by providing a unique microgravity environment that allows us to look at human physiology from another angle and also acts as a catalyst for lateral thinking.

  Finally I wish to endorse Mr Gourlay's vision of our equipment that one day it may be used on Mars (response Q465 and Q485). However, I wish also to add that as yet there are no "definites" and no formal selection of projects considering the long time scale for the Mars mission. I believe that the UK can be a small but meaningful stakeholder in the return to "the Moon programme" that is now underway, and that we can inspire school children to be our future engineers and scientists.

February 2007

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