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Need a specialist doctor? Why not try the Antartic?

AUSTRALIA'S Antarctic research stations, cut off for nine months of the year by ice and blizzards, are taking lessons learned from space to try to improve the diagnosis and treatment of staff remotely.

Dealing with a medical emergency or trying to make a complex diagnosis has always been a challenge during the long months of isolation and evacuation is impossible, leaving station doctors to treat all manner of illnesses.

To boost medical care, Australia's Antarctic Division and the Royal Perth Hospital in Western Australia are developing guidelines that would allow staff with minimal medical training to use newly developed 3D diagnostic ultrasound.

"This the first study that involves 3D or ultrasonic volume imaging in extreme medicine," said project member Marilyn Zelesco, a sonographer at Royal Perth Hospital.

"It's not possible to train a generalist doctor in all facets of medical care," said Jeff Ayton, the division's chief medical officer. "In space you have the challenges of isolation and minimally trained medical and non-medical personnel. In an emergency situation that is a great advantage if we can fetch good diagnostic-quality images quickly and send them off to someone else for assessment."

NASA already uses diagnostic ultrasound, and two of the researchers on the division's project, Zelesco and Rob Hart of the Royal Perth Hospital, have developed protocols for astronauts to use 2D ultrasound in space.


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