Convenient cardiac monitoring for astronauts

Scientists can now accurately and more easily assess the beat-by-beat mechanical properties of an astronaut’s cardiac function

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Echocardiograms are a key part of cardiac function assessment, though the technique is restricted to the lab or clinic due to its requirement for trained technicians and difficulty involved with mass data collection. Making cardiac assessment more viable for space travel, researchers from Italy’s Fondazione Don Gnocchi, led by Marco Di Rienzo, developed an algorithm that automatically distills useful information from tiny chest vibrations, measured via an accelerometer worn during sleep.

Figure 1 from the author's paper, showing the vest worn by test subjects to collect chest vibration and ECG data. 

The algorithm processed over 36,000 heartbeats from over 69 hours of data, identifying vibrations indicating the opening and closing of the wearer’s mitral and aortic valves. This information, alongside concurrent ECG recordings, can be used to calculate indices of heart performance.

Di Rienzo’s team found that chest vibrations were more accurately measured in space. On earth, gravity and sleep movements sometimes distorted the recordings.

Poster image: Crew members collecting medical data during the Skylab missions between May 1973 and 1974. Image courtesy of NASA/MSFC.

Kristopher James Kent

Freelance journalist,

I'm a freelance writer and journalist who produces content for Nature, the Nature Partner Journals, and magazines from international universities and government science institutes. I write across a broad range of science topics, though my primary interests lie within medical science, science policy, disability, and mental health.