Texarkana, TX 75° Tue H 84° L 60° Wed H 84° L 62° Thu H 84° L 62° Weather Sponsored By:

Startup is developing tools to treat astronauts in space

Startup is developing tools to treat astronauts in space

June 18th, 2019 by Richmond Times-Dispatch in Features
In this June 10, 2019 photo, Dr. Marsh Cuttino, who founded Orbital Medicine, which develops medical devices for space travel, shows off the Evolved Medical Microgravity Suction Device which is able to collect blood in microgravity for procedures such as collapsed lungs, in Richmond, Va. (Joe Mahoney/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va.—Space flight has been a lifelong passion for Dr. C. Marsh Cuttino. As a child growing up in Richmond, he had ambitions of becoming an astronaut.

"I have always been interested in space. I am a classic child of the Apollo era," said Cuttino, referring to the NASA program that sent humans to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Cuttino became a medical doctor specializing in emergency medicine, but his fascination with space flight has played an important role in his career.

He is the founder of Orbital Medicine Inc., a startup that provides medical consulting for space flight and develops tools to treat medical conditions that astronauts could suffer in space.

"My vision is to be the medical provider for commercial space flight operations," he said.

One of the company's inventions, the Evolved Medical Microgravity Suction Device, is designed to treat a collapsed lung during space flight.

"A collapsed lung is a high-impact injury that has a significant risk of occurring on long-duration space flight," Cuttino said. "It is life-threatening, but it is easy to treat on Earth with the right tools."

However, those tools are dependent on gravity to function properly. "In zero gravity, that won't work," Cuttino said.

Under a research grant from NASA, Cuttino pulled together a team of physicians and aerospace engineers to develop the device, which is designed to work in microgravity, creating suction to continuously inflate the lung and collecting blood that can be transfused into an injured astronaut.

The company has been testing the device on suborbital space flights conducted by Blue Origin LLC, the private aerospace company formed by Jeff Bezos, the founder of internet retail giant Amazon.

The device has been sent into suborbital flight twice, first on a Blue Origin flight in late 2017 and more recently on a flight earlier this year.

"We developed a collapsible version," of the device, to make it more efficient for space flight, Cuttino said.

Cuttino brings to his work a lengthy background in emergency medicine and space flight research.

After attending medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University, Cuttino did his residency in emergency medicine at the University of Florida, which enabled him to work at NASA from 1995 to 1998 as part of a medical support team for astronauts in the space shuttle program.

"There are a lot of challenges in taking care of an astronaut right after landing, and if they have been in space for a long time, because your physiology changes in space," Cuttino said.

Cuttino later returned to VCU to teach emergency medicine and continued to do research on space flight medicine. He is now chairman of emergency medicine for HCA's Henrico Doctors' Hospitals.

In developing the treatment tool for a collapsed lung, Cuttino drew on his experience in parabolic flights, which are flights on specialized aircraft that NASA uses to re-create the conditions of low gravity for training astronauts and conducting experiments.

Parabolic flights have been famously referred to as the "vomit comet" because they can induce motion sickness among passengers.

"I have never gotten sick, which is one of the strengths that got me invited on a lot of flights as an experimenter," Cuttino said. "When you are doing these research programs, if your team gets sick, you can't complete the research."

"The lack of gravity is so foreign that if you do not have experience in zero gravity, it is almost impossible to describe," he said. "A lot of people will try to develop (medical) tools for zero gravity, but if you do not have a zero gravity intuition, then a lot of the designs just won't work."

Cuttino's experience flying on the vomit comet multiple times "has given me insight into what types of things work and what don't work," he said.

He would like to see space missions that return to the moon or even go to Mars. He wants to develop medical tools and processes that can be useful on such missions or that can be used on the International Space Station.

Cuttino said he has a list of devices in mind.

"Two of them are submitted now for grants," he said. "One of my next ones is targeted for lunar exploration, for conditions that are difficult to treat in remote and extreme environments."

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Texarkana Gazette Comments Policy

The Texarkana Gazette web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Gazette web sites and any content on the Gazette web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Gazette, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Gazette web sites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Texarkana Gazette
15 Pine Street
Texarkana, TX 75501
Phone: 903-794-3311
Email: webeditor@texarkanagazette.com