Medical video games aim to keep astronauts healthy in space


International Space Station (ISS) crew members push scientific boundaries by performing all sorts of cutting-edge experiments in a microgravity environment. They also provide continual feedback to researchers on Earth about how living in space affects the human body.

Now, Level Ex, a medical video game company, is partnering with the Transitional Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) to develop video games that can help astronauts treat different medical conditions in space. Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine runs TRISH, which is funded by NASA’s Human Research Program.

According to a press release, Level Ex received a “prestigious grant” from the institute to support the development of its game-changing “virtual human simulation framework” for NASA.

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Unique Medical Training in Space

Currently, Level Ex creates engaging video games for doctors that present them with a variety of medical challenges. From making perplexing diagnoses to tackling rare surgical complications, the simulations deliver an array of complex scenarios. Currently, games are available on iOS and Android platforms for different medical specialties.

For example, anesthesiologists can play “AIRWAY EX,” and pulmonologists can play “PULM EX.” Cardiologists can play “CARDIO EX,” and so on.

In designing and developing games that train astronauts, Level Ex is entering a new frontier. Ultimately, crew members will handle different “spaceflight medical scenarios” in the games on Earth before they embark on space missions.

Level Ex Leadership

Level Ex is a collaboration of game developers, digital health researchers, and “expert physicians from top medical institutions” working together to create a renowned suite of medical games. Leading the way is the company’s Founder and CEO, Sam Glassenberg.

Before launching the medical games startup, the visionary leader served as CEO for the independent game publisher FTX Games. The company released blockbuster games based on titles like “Mission: Impossible” and “The Hunger Games.”

Coming from a long line of doctors, a suggestion from his anesthesiologist father reportedly pushed Glassenberg’s gaming focus in a medical direction. He expressed enthusiasm about the company’s partnership with TRISH in a press statement:

“We are honored that TRISH has put their trust in us to use our technology to advance medical training for astronauts. With half a million medical professionals already playing our medical games, we’re eager to apply the work we’ve done to another critically important area of healthcare.”

Glassenberg went on to discuss the impact of the grant, “Not only do I foresee this partnership shaping the future of spaceflight medicine, but there is no doubt that our discoveries and advancements will make Level Ex’s technology more robust, which will benefit terrestrial medical education across the board.”

Effects of Space on the Human Body

The human body experiences many changes within the varying levels of gravity in outer space. Increased exposure to radiation and shifting circadian rhythms also spur physical changes.

Common medical issues for astronauts include losing muscle and bone mass. Meanwhile, organs can even travel to other places inside the body. Intracranial pressure due to changes in body fluids can also create eye problems. The heart is susceptible to dangerous changes in shape.

With NASA’s goals to send humans to the moon and Mars, there is a greater medical concern for astronauts on long-duration and deep space missions.

During short missions, “the human body adapts,” says Aenor Sawyer, an orthopedic doctor, director of the UCSF Skeletal Health Service, and TRISH’s chief health innovation officer in a statement to Forbes. “But in a longer duration mission, it’s unclear how well the body will recover.”

Furthermore, communication lags in deep space. At the ISS, crew members can contact a doctor in seconds. However, Mars astronauts face a potential 40-minute transmission delay. This lapse could be fatal in a medical emergency.

In this case, Level Ex could serve a life-saving purpose. Sawyer suggests that the company’s simulations could help equip the astronauts for “autonomous medical management.”

For example, a Level Ex scenario could guide crew members through the best technique for performing CPR in microgravity.

Project Status

Right now, Level Ex’s space framework is in its early stages. The TRISH grant provides 12 months of funding for the project’s initial framework development. According to Forbes, Glassenberg says that Level Ex will research and identify the key next steps to create “complex simulations of different medical scenarios” by the end of the year.

Sawyer also envisions the dual benefits of the company’s space technology for people here on Earth. For example, he states that “it could definitely increase access to care in rural settings.”

Overall, Level Ex’s innovative video games will continue to help medical professionals on the ground. As the company joins many other businesses that are helping humanity reach for the stars, they will have an impact in space as well.