From Outer Space to the Doctor's Office: Ultrasound Lets Doctors Predict Patients' Health

Technology developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory led to the creation of a vital tool for physicians.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Thanks to new technology from JPL, doctors may be a step closer to predicting heart attacks. Dr. Joseph Pachorek relies on an ultrasound test using software called ArterioVision developed at the lab to predict future heart disease of his patients. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on February 1, 2013.

    An internal medicine specialist in Pasadena, Dr. Joseph Pachorek relies on an ultrasound test using software called ArterioVision to help predict the future health of his patients.

    It images the corotid artery, which carries blood from the heart to the brain. It is a non-invasive examination and measures thickness, a predictor of heart disease, Pachorek said.

    "It's accurate in that you can always go back to the same site of the artery measured on and the predictions are accurate," he added.

    During a test at his offices, Pachorek was alerted to a 49-year-old woman with a history of diabetes. The results of her exam allowed him to create a diet, exercise and medication plan to lessen health risks.

    "It puts her in a 53 percent higher risk than the normal woman in her age group. And her vascular age is that of a 75-79 year old," Pachorek said.

    "You can definitely reduce the number of events, which are the heart attacks and strokes, later on," he added.

    The technology would not be possible if not for work done at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in La Cañada Flintridge and video imaging software developed at JPL for space missions.

    "Since 1958 when NASA was first formed, there was legislation that required that transfer technologies from the space program to benefit life here on earth," said Debbie Wolfenbarger, technology transfer specialist at JPL.

    Some 3,000 scientists are constantly at work, and between 30 and 50 patents are created there every year.

    "Our role is to develop technologies. We work with the private sector to transfer them out," said Indrani Graczyk, manager of the commercial program office at JPL.

    From the infrared technology developed to detect heat – which allows doctors to detect tumors for breast cancer in a non-invasive procedure – to the smallest camera on a computer chip, many of the products that come from JPL research are technology we used daily.

    The technology at times mimics nature. BluBlocker-style glasses, specifically created by the company Eagle Eyes, incorporate a substance developed for astronauts’ helmets to shield them from ultraviolet rays and glare.

    "They studied birds of prey and what they found was birds of prey had an oil in their eyes that helped their vision," Wolfenbarger said.

    There are also things not yet on the market.

    Aerogel is 99 percent air and made by high-temperature and pressure-critical-point drying of a gel composed of colloidal silica structural units filled with solvents, according to JPL.

    "It is the lightest solid on earth," Wolfenbarger said. "We have used it in missions for insulation because it is an excellent insulator."

    Other potential applications, for example in homes, are endless. When asked if Aerogel could be used as protective layers for firefighters, Wolfenbarger said: "Absolutely."

    Pachorek is certainly grateful for the innovation that continues to improve the health of his patients.

    "You can follow yourself and see if you are improving or not improving," he said.

    And it’s an innovation that has no boundaries.

    "We would like to see it all go out there,” Graczyk said, “and become great, new American products."

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