Press Release

New NASA Patents Offer Potential Advances in Medicine and Communication

By SpaceRef Editor
March 12, 2004
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NASA inventions that may help advance human cell growth, kill prostate cancer cells with microwave energy and enhance pharmaceutical research are now available to interested private companies.

The technologies, patented in January, were developed at the Johnson Space Center. They offer great potential for advances in health and medicine. They are now available for licensing by private industry to benefit the public.

“NASA’s goal is to strive to ensure that the products of its research and development work achieve practical applications where they can directly benefit the public,” said JSC Patent Counsel Edward Fein. “One way we do this is by offering our patents to companies to provide them the degree of exclusivity necessary to justify the commitment of private resources needed to take a technology and realize its potential public benefits.”

The newly available patented technologies include:

Prostate Cancer Treatment — An innovation that could be used in a potential treatment to combat prostate cancer was granted the fourth in a series of U.S. patents. This patent covers a computer simulator that is designed to predict a patient’s temperature profile. The noninvasive treatment involves the use of microwave energy introduced by way of a catheter to heat and kill benign cancer cells in the prostate.

“Thermal heating profiles within the body tissue are calculated using the microwave and thermal properties of body tissue to determine proper heating times and power levels,” said inventor Dickey Arndt, who is credited with 21 patented inventions at NASA.

Bioreactor Cell Culture Growth Advance — Expanding human applications of a remarkable NASA-developed system for cell culture growth that already is in commercial use is the focus of another patent. The bioreactor system allows the cultivation of three-dimensional cell cultures in a rotating vessel, simulating the way cells grow within the human body. Designed to grow cell cultures in weightlessness, the bioreactor has achieved cell cultures in space and on Earth that can better compare to actual cell growth within the body. These systems use a time-varying electromagnetic field imposed on a spinning, fluid-filled vessel to provide ideal conditions to grow three-dimensional tissue and enhance the growth of neural tissue.

“The rotational culture systems simulate zero gravity and, within limits, are able to achieve these improved results on Earth,” said astronaut David Wolf, former manager of the JSC Biotechnology Program. "Tissue culture is a fundamental technique, touching a broad range of medical systems.” Wolf conducted cell and tissue research during his 158 days in space aboard the Mir Space Station.

3-D Protein Structure — This recently patented technology, third in a series of related patents, includes a technique to determine three-dimensional protein structure that may hold promise for pharmaceutical advances. The technology introduces a way to form microcapsules on Earth by encapsulating the dissolved form of a protein, drug or bioactive substance in a membrane. This membrane is strong enough to grow and protect fragile protein crystals, yet transparent enough to x-ray for an in-depth study of the protein structure. Three-dimensional protein structure knowledge opens doors to design or reproduce drugs. Potential pharmaceutical advances such as these could lead to improvements inr health care..

Optical Network Innovations — The use of spatial light modulators in optical networks, such as those used in computers and fiber optic cable, can offer more efficient communications. Modern communication systems often use light carriers. This innovation centers on a unique optical switch, equipped with a polarizing beam splitter, and the use of spatial light modulators or liquid crystal devices. Traditional switches, which convert optical signals into electrical signals and vice versa to carry data, are limited. To overcome poor synchronization and low bandwidth, this innovation can be used to connect light from a single source to a number of destinations simultaneously. This process can also be reversed to speedy optical network interconnectivity.

Companies can license these technologies and collaborate with NASA on research and development to improve all aspects of people’s lives. Thousands of space technologies have found their way into everyday life, from quartz timing crystals used on Apollo missions in the 1960s to smoke detectors developed in the 1970s for Skylab. JSC has an extensive intellectual property portfolio, with 487 issued U.S. patents and more than 40 pending applications for U.S. patents.

For more information about JSC’s patented technologies and information about licensing or partnership opportunities, visit the JSC Technology Transfer and Commercialization web site:

SpaceRef staff editor.