NASA has signed a patent license agreement that will allow a California company use of NASA-developed technology that could be used to treat hardened arteries in the heart.
In the 1990s, a group of NASA engineers and scientists at Johnson Space
Center were looking into the use of millimeter wave electromagnetic energy
in an experimental imaging system. Doing so required the rental of expensive equipment. Although it was determined early on that millimeter wave radiation was not going to be useful for the original imaging application, there was still time left on the rental agreement. Rather than waste it, the engineers and scientists began to brainstorm other uses for it.
After consulting with a local physician, the group came up with a promising application: atherosclerosis treatment. Atherosclerosis occurs when fat and cholesterol build up on the walls of arteries and cause them to harden, making them stiff and blocking blood flow, which can, in turn, cause heart attacks and strokes.
The electromagnetic spectrum that the group had been looking at for imaging purposes -W band, to be specific - could also be used in a miniaturized, directional antenna attached to a catheter. Inserted into a diseased artery, the millimeter wave transmissions could penetrate the artery wall and restore elasticity to the artery without damaging healthy tissue and cells.
The technology's potential for use on Earth caught the attention of Dr. Anthony C. Dike, president and CEO of Meridian Health Systems.
Meridian will conduct clinical trials with a prototype built by NASA scientists and engineers, working toward FDA approval of its use. The company also worked with Johnson Space Center through a Space Act Agreement to perform experiments using pig arteries, obtained as by-products from a local slaughterhouse, to compare microwave and millimeter wave band operation and to optimize certain design features such as the antenna size, the transmitted power, and the pulse repetition rate.