Space innovations set to improve wellbeing during prolonged isolation, COVID

Harris Eyre
4 min readOct 20, 2020

Coordinated between the Texas Medical Center (TMC) and Deakin University in Australia, a team of diverse experts, has developed an approach to driving the development of innovative mental health solutions during COVID. The team of scientists, clinicians and entrepreneurs highlight numerous issues in mental health that may benefit from technological innovation, such as access issues, subjective diagnostic systems and trial-and-error treatment approaches. They note prolonged confinement of long-duration spaceflight is akin to the COVID-19 pandemic social and physical distancing, hence the Space sector may provide learnings for us here on Earth.

This paper, Promoting Tech Transfer Between Space and Global Mental Health, published in Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, Jeffrey Sutton MD PhD, Harris Eyre MD PhD, Michael Berk MD PhD and others introduce the mental health challenges of long-duration spaceflight (such as a Mars Mission) including prolonged confinement, microgravity and different sunlight exposure lengths.

‘There is potential for exchanging solutions between these seemingly disparate challenges in Space and on Earth using a range of emerging technologies such as sensors, ‘omics’, and big data.’ said Eyre, Co-Founder of The PRODEO Institute.

Michael Berk MD PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of The Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT) at Deakin University noted, ‘The ability to translate technology specific to mental health into a highly constrained setting, like long-duration space travel, will require exceptional attention. This article is a call-to-action for those innovators to take heed of those Earth-based mental health technologies that have the potential to be translated to long-duration space missions, examples of which include device-based psychotherapy and social support, conversational agents ‘aka chatbots’, nutritional and physical activity focused mental health. The reverse, translation of space technologies to Earth mental health opportunities, is also cited and includes technologies like remote sensing devices, global navigation satellite systems, satellite communications, chronotherapies and nutritional advances.’

“There is a rich history of space technologies informing Earth technological trends including general health care on Earth, and vice versa”, stated Jeff Sutton MD PhD, Friedkin Professor and Founding Director of the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Lance Black MD, Associate Director of TMC Innovation and Scientific Advisor to the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) mentioned, ‘The Bio Bridge Initiative is a partnership between Australia and the TMC. The aim is to create a two-way flow of capital and resources, through collaborations in research, clinical trials and commercialisation. This mental health innovation initiative is exemplary in linking TMC and Australian ingenuity for the benefit of patients globally’.

‘I commend these innovation experts for providing this roadmap for intensive mental health innovation. In the hands of entrepreneurs and technology executives, this approach will surely yield benefits to patients, families and the broader global mental health system’, noted Mark Heinemeyer, CEO of PRODEO, a venture executive group focused in commercializing advanced mental health technology solutions.

In conclusion, Eyre mentioned ‘This concept is an exemplar of transdisciplinary or convergent innovation in mental health. Convergence innovation integrates knowledge, tools, and thought strategies from various fields for tackling challenges that exist at the interfaces of multiple fields. The goal of convergence is to ‘break siloes’. Colleagues and I have a forthcoming book with Oxford University Press titled ‘Convergence Mental Health: A Roadmap Towards Transdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship’, scheduled for publication in December 2020.’

Additional coauthors include Dr Donald Chang PhD from The University of Queensland-Ochsner Clinical School, Professor Neal Pellis PhD from BCM, Professor Eric Storch PhD from BCM, Prof Helen Lavretsky from UCLA, Dr Kylie Ternes MD from the Baylor College of Medicine, Prof Marc Shepanek from NASA, Ms Erin Smith from Stanford University and Prof Ryan Abbott MD JD from UCLA and The University of Surrey.

The Bio-Bridge Initiative: The Bio-Bridge Initiative is a partnership between Australia and the Texas TMC in Houston, USA. The aim is to create a two-way flow of capital and resources, through collaborations in research, clinical trials and commercialisation. The partnership links Australian firms and ingenuity to TMC — the largest medical centre within the largest health market in the world — to develop a sustainable growth platform for Australian innovation in medical devices, diagnostics and digital health.

Baylor Center for Space Medicine: The Center for Space Medicine emphasizes discovery and innovation in high-priority areas of space biomedical science and technology. The Center fosters biomedical discovery, advances the field of space medicine, trains scientists and physicians and translates space advances to benefit health on Earth. It is a collaborative enterprise involving multiple Baylor College of Medicine departments and centers, NASA, Texas Medical Center institutions, and other national and international academic, industry and government organizations.

Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH): a lean, virtual institute empowered by the NASA Human Research Program to solve the challenges of human deep space exploration. We find and fund disruptive, breakthrough approaches that reduce risks to human health and performance. TRISH supports both high-risk early-stage research as well as pre-seed and seed-stage health technologies that can be modified for use by astronauts on the way to Mars. Led by Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine, the consortium leverages partnerships with Caltech and MIT.

IMPACT at Deakin University: The Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation. IMPACT is a multidisciplinary strategic research institute that integrates clinical, epidemiological and basic research with a strong translational focus. IMPACT contributes to the understanding of the aetiology and impact of psychiatric, musculoskeletal, metabolic and other health disorders.

Reference

Chang, D.D et al (2020) Promoting Tech Transfer Between Space and Global Mental Health. Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance. Accepted. Online First. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/asma/amhp/2020/00000091/00000009/art00011

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Harris Eyre

Brain Health Executive and Brain Capital Builder