NASA satellites bolster public health research

NASA's satellite data is being
used to fight malaria, childhood
asthma and strokes. A partnership
between NASA's National
Space Science and Technology
Center (NSSTC) and the
School of Public Health at the
University of Alabama at
Birmingham (UAB) is using
the imagery and data to determine
how environmental factors
influence a variety of diseases
and conditions.

Recently, NASA and UAB
announced that, in the fall of
2007, UAB established the
Laboratory for Global Health
Observation for using satellite
imagery to study public health
problems here and abroad.

The lab is the country's first
dedicated remote-sensing lab for
medical and public health use.
NSSTC scientists are working
with the lab to teach students
how satellite data can be used in
medicine and health.

'Both UAB and NASA want to
understand, using NASA satellite
data on air quality, heat indexes,
temperature, humidity and other
environmental elements, how
the environment is influencing
the diseases and conditions
targeted by' UAB, said NASA's
Dale Quattrochi.

Using geographic information
systems technology, a Global Positioning
System satellite receiver
triangulates its position using
three to four satellites orbiting
the Earth. Pictures from the
satellites are digitized and incorporated
into a GIS database to
create colorful digital maps and
pictures showing the visible or
thermal properties of an area,
such as environmental changes,
agricultural activities, water temperatures
and erosion.

'With our combined data, we'll
be able to pinpoint any statistical
relationships between these diseases
and where these people
live, how hot their climate is
and so forth,' Quattrochi said.
'We're analyzing the data now.
With the wide geographic coverage,
this study's findings
could help health officials with
environmental exposure and
health recommendations.'

The partnership started with
a study on how racial and geographic
differences affected
the potential for strokes. Latitude
and longitude data from
participants in a stroke study,
Regards ' short for Reasons
for Geographic and Racial Differences
in Stroke ' was merged
with NASA remote-sensing data,
Quattrochi said.

Regards, funded by a five-year,
$28 million grant from the National
Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke, part of the
National Institutes of Health, is
investigating why the rate of
stroke death is significantly higher
in the southeastern United
States and why blacks are more
likely to die from stroke than
whites. Specifically, Leslie Mc-
Clure, assistant professor of biostatistics,
is using NASA's satellite
technology to determine if there
is a variation in blood pressure
associated with meteorological

Other studies are also using the
satellite technology, including a
study on whether there is a correlation
between seasonal affective
disorder and sunlight radiation.

Additionally, the satellites
are used to locate standing water,
a breeding ground for mosquitoes,
and treat those areas to prevent
malaria, in adddition to
tracking environmental influences
on childhood asthma.

NSSTC scientist Jeff Luvall described
the partnership as a
'turning point in public health.
Who knows where it will lead?'

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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