Cool Suits
Multiple Sclerosis - Cool NASA Suits
BACKGROUND: Multiple sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease in which the body's own immune system begins to attack the myelin on nerve cells. This process creates scars, or lesions, on the nervous system that stop the transmission of nerve impulses through the body. As a result, functions that most people take for granted become much more difficult if not impossible, for MS patients. Women are twice as likely to develop MS as are men.
HEAT SENSITIVITY: Heat-sensitive multiple sclerosis (HSMS) patients experience impairment of motor and physiologic functions when they are in warm environments. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, muscle spasms, muscle weakening and slurred speech. Heat-induced loss of function has commonly been attributed to a rise in body core temperature. It's often alleviated when body temperature returns to normal. It is thought that cooling (HSMS) patients below baseline can improve their strength, endurance, motor control, balance and energy levels.
PROJECT BEGINNINGS: The NASA Cool Suit" project actually began about 20 years ago when a doctor at UCLA made the connection that most MS patients like to remain cool - much cooler then most others. The doctor read about NASA's liquid cooling garments that astronauts wear under space suits and requested one to test on an MS patient. The experiment was successful. Since then, several companies that manufacture liquid cooling garments were created. But according to Bernadette Luna from the NASA Ames Research Center, the garments are still not used as much as they should be. Experts in the MS community disagree on whether the suits provide real benefits. Because of the uncertainty, insurance carriers do not cover the cost of cooling systems.
NASA'S INVOLVEMENT: On May 23,1994, NASA began a cooperative effort with the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America to assess the benefits of the cool suit for MS patients. In June 1997, Lockheed Martin also joined the research efforts. The research project has five main goals: 1) Definition of the basal thermal state of MS patients 2) Scientific evaluation of the efficacy of cooling therapy for MS patients 3) Development of prototype personal cooling systems 4) Transfer of any new cooling garment technology industry 5) Publication of results in medical literature.
CURRENT WORK: NASA is trying to quantify what happens to the human body - a healthy human body and one with MS - before and after cooling with different commercially available cooling garments. NASA also hopes to develop improved garments that can be used not only by MS patients but by people with other neurologic disorders such as Parkinson's disease, spine bifida, migraine headaches, spinal cord injury and stroke.
Bernadette Luna
NASA Ames Research Center
Mail Stop 239-15
Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000
M Multiple Sclerosis Association of America
National Headquarters
706 Haddonfield Rd.
Cherry Hill, NJ 08002
(650) 604-5250 (800) LEARN-MS (800) 532-7667