Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 29

Submission from Dr Robert Marchbanks, Managing Director, Marchbanks Measurement Systems Ltd


  1.  I am the MD of a UK company that is being funded by NASA Johnson Center to develop medical equipment for human space exploration. The equipment is one of the UK's Millennium Products, and is used to measure brain pressure without the need for surgery. NASA's modest investment has resulted in technology with immediate and significant application in Earth-based healthcare, military and commercial medical usage.

  2.  Without doubt, non-invasive measurement of brain pressure is central to human space flight and Earth-based medicine. I believe its usage in neurology will be as commonplace as ECG measurements are in cardiology today. With this knowledge, I made a number of approaches to the European Space Agency (ESA), however, the answer was always the same—the UK does not support human space exploration projects. I was encouraged to initiate a project with other ESA members; however, because I am UK-based I would not receive funding, although the other partners would.

  3.  The benefits of investing in medical technology for human space flight are:

    (a)  Almost immediate applicability to Earth-based medicine and, therefore, value for money in terms of commercial spin-out and wealth generation.

    (b)  An almost identical level of Space and Earth design and quality control, with resulting documentation that meets European CE Mark and FDA registration requirements—important to European companies in providing accelerated entry to the US healthcare market.

    (c)  International collaboration with resulting knowledge transfer and skill generation in key areas of technology, medicine and quality control.

    (d)  Innovative and robust solutions to everyday problems.

  4.  Through the support of NASA, we now have reconfigurable telemedicine equipment that is expected to deliver public and commercial benefits in areas such as:

    (a)  Hospital-based medicine including paediatric and adult intensive care.

    (b)  Telemedicine for remote healthcare applications, such as possibly in the Scottish Islands.

    (c)  Commercial applications of telemedicine, such as with oil exploration.

    (d)  Support of the armed forces in terms of front-line telemedicine and home-based neurological/audiological diagnostics.

    (e)  US Home-State Security applications, such as for natural, accidental or contingency terrorist related disasters.

    (f)  In conclusion, for a modest investment, NASA is a stakeholder in cutting-edge health technology and has created a "win-win" opportunity for Space and Earth-based medicine. A close synergy exists between these two applications in terms of design control and documentation. This synergy facilitates skill transfer and rapid entry routes to US and major Worldwide health device markets.

October 2006

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