Area missions: a biomedical evaluation laboratory in a shoebox

On May 25, the Space Agency and Impact Canada announced 20 projects selected for the competition Deep Space Healthcare Call, aimed at supporting the development of new technologies in the field of healthcare. These technologies are designed for astronauts on long-term space missions as well as remote communities in Canada.

The project presented by the University of Montreal and selected by the consortium brings together three professors of chemistry recognized in the field of medical technology, namely Professors Jean-François Masson, an expert in optical biosensors for disease detection, and Joelle Pelletier, a. Specialist in Protein Engineering and Molecular Interactions, as well as Professor Denis Boudreau of Laval University, Specialist in Nanomaterials and Optical Instruments.

The Quebec team of chemists was chosen thanks to their technology called SPRINT, which consists of intelligent surface plasmon resonant nanosensors. “In layman’s terms, we will design a miniature laboratory for biomedical analysis, the main component of which will be the size of a tissue box to detect biomarkers of diseases in a drop of human blood,” explains Jean-Francois Masson. With all the equipment needed for analysis, this miniaturized laboratory will be stored in a shoe box-sized container! ”

Autonomous space missions

Space missions in the coming decades will present much more complex challenges than missions aboard the International Space Station, which is only 400 km from Earth: “The rocket cockpit is not the most spacious. Subsequent missions will take astronauts to distances from Earth like they have never before. Therefore, they will have to be autonomous in everything that is necessary for life. In the case of the disease, it is not possible to set up a classic laboratory of medical analysis, even a small one. That’s why the Canadian Space Agency has called on scientists from across the country to find solutions, ”says Jean-François Masson.

COVID-19 as a starting point

Microfluidic refill developed by Professor Denis Boudreau

Credit: ULaval

“SPRINT technology is inspired by the COVID-19 detection test, which we recently developed as part of research on infected foods during a pandemic. SPRINT will combine two state-of-the-art technologies, surface plasmon resonance and passively pumped microfluidic cassettes.

“Surface plasmon resonance is an optical process that uses a thin film of gold to detect biomarkers of inflammation, which are one or more proteins secreted into the blood and associated with disease. Depending on the detected biomarkers, the device measures a specific color spectrum, “concluded Jean-François Masson.

He continues: “At the University of Laval, our colleague Denis Boudreau is working on microfluidic cartridges containing the reagent, which come into contact with a single drop of blood and whose pumping will be passive, ie capillary. Capillarity is an interaction phenomenon that occurs at the liquid-surface interface due to surface tension forces. For example, this phenomenon occurs when ink is absorbed by absorbent paper.

Several stamp-sized cartridges will be designed to test for symptoms of various diseases, including cancer and infections, as well as several types of inflammatory diseases that are most likely to develop in the body. sanitized space flight environment.

The procedure will be simple and fast. If necessary for diagnosis, the astronaut must select a suitable cartridge for the disease to be examined, add a drop of blood to the cartridge, insert it into the SPRINT, and activate the software. The total analysis time will be less than 15 minutes.

From Lunar Gateway to Mars: The Danger of Cosmic Radiation

Jean-Francois Masson

Acknowledgments: Amélie Philibert

Lunar Gateway Space Station is another major international manned space exploration mission for which the Canadian Space Agency has invited scientists to imagine groundbreaking medical devices. The station will orbit the moon and in the next twenty years will serve as a springboard for space exploration in deep space, the first planned stop of which is the planet Mars.

Planet Mars is a few months away by space shuttle. Therefore, it is important that astronauts are prepared to live independently for a long time.

“It is essential for our team that our miniaturized SPRINT laboratory be able to detect cancer biomarkers in a context in which astronauts will work without protecting the Earth’s magnetic field, which protects people from cosmic rays. For the first time in human history, astronauts will be exposed to higher doses of sunlight and cosmic radiation for a long time, ”warns Jean-François Masson. Researchers believe that this radiation can cause cancer in humans, but they do not have sufficient data to confirm this. Documenting this issue of long-haul space travel will be one of the lunar station’s missions.

SPRINT: undeniable utility on Earth

Rapid and quantitative detection of inflammatory markers by the SPRINT device will help in the screening of several serious diseases. The absence of clinical laboratories in remote areas means that the patient or blood sample must travel to the city center, depending on the situation. It can be long, expensive and complicated. Having a tool at hand that facilitates the diagnosis of the disease allows you to choose the best treatment for patients.

Its use could revolutionize medical practice in remote regions, as rapid on-site diagnostics is synonymous with on-site follow-up inspections and not in large urban centers, which are often difficult to access for these communities. Just think of the Canadian Far North, where the distances to be covered are enormous.

In addition, commissioning of the device does not require a sterile or aseptic environment or special training – the patient can use it independently. It even eliminates manual collection and injection steps. A drop of blood remains trapped in the cartridge, minimizing the possibility of contamination and destruction of the sample. Long analysis times to obtain results will also disappear, as these will be displayed in 15 minutes.

This technology solution will therefore be adapted to conditions where staff and resources are limited, as well as staff turnover. As designed, it will not require centralized data devices or peripheral technologies, but the software can be designed to communicate with centralized systems if needed.

“We are therefore ready to work with remote communities in Canada to identify the technology applications that will be most useful to them and to design a series of cartridges that meet their needs,” said Professor Masson, Pelletier and Boudeau.

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