Washington: Space scientists are harnessing ultrasound to not only detect painful kidney stones but also to get rid of them through a process called "twinkling artifact".
The risk of kidney stones developing in space is aggravated by environmental conditions, scarcity of resouces and the distance from the earth, which could restrict treatment options.
The project is led by National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) Smart Medical Systems and Technology Team principal investigator Lawrence Crum and co-investigator Michael Bailey.
Bailey said the technology is based on currently available equipment . "We have a diagnostic ultrasound machine that has enhanced capability to image kidney stones in the body," said Bailey, according to an NSBRI statement.
"We also have a capability that uses ultrasound waves coming right through the skin to push small stones or pieces of stones toward the exit of the kidney, so they will naturally pass, avoiding surgery," added Bailey.
Currently, the preferred mode of removal is to drink water to encourage the stones to pass naturally, but this does not always work, and surgery is often the only option. In space, the threat from kidney stones is greater due to the difficulty of keeping astronauts fully hydrated.
Another factor is that bones demineralize in the reduced-gravity environment of space, dumping salts into the blood and eventually into the urine. The elevated concentration of salts in the urine is a risk factor for stones.
Crum, who is a physicist, said kidney stones could be a serious problem on a long-duration mission.