Meet: Friedhelm Baisch, M.D.
Artificial Neural Networks and Cardiovascular Regulation
Who I am:
I am an engineer specializing in physiological research at DLR Institute
of Aerospace Medicine, Germany.
My Career Journey
I climbed through the education system by an alternate way. You may
know that the school system in Germany is a little different than in the
states. You normally have to take a "Matura", which is a final exam after
the 13th grade that allows you to go to the university. My route was a
little bit different. Because of problems in foreign languages (Greek,
Latin and English) I left school after 10th grade.
At that time a classical education was really more or less unnecessary
for me. I was far more interested in technical things such as physics
and math, which were my favorites. Therefore, I decided not to go the
normal way. I made my way as a technician first, and with that degree
I was allowed to study medicine.
My first contact with the university was as an ordinary assistant to
support the lessons of the full professors at the university of Tuebingen,
department of physiology. By doing my tasks, like bringing the frogs to
the students to dissect them, I got more and more interested in that field
Another task I had was to prepare the records for investigations on
animal experiments. In this task I was confronted with questions like:
How much flow goes through the whole musculature of an animal?
That was more than thirty years ago, and at that time they measured flow
through the musculature drop by drop. Things had to be explored step by
step, and it was not as easy as it is today! At that time I had a little
bit of experience doing things electronically, so I made up an electronic
drop counter for these investigators that worked with an ordinary strip
What kind of reaction will take place by using specific drugs?
How is the vessel system regulated ?
My main driver was to use these technical skills to improve the measurement
possibilities in order to come to a more focused view of the questions,
for example in cardio-vascular regulation. In the beginning we used very
primitive measurements, and now we are able to detect bit by bit variations
and to see what kind of controlled system is behind those changes. This
kind of measurement requires a lot of understanding of technical possibilities
we have today . A lot of questions are on the table, which can't be answered
because our techniques are not yet sharp enough. I am interested in applying
new techniques and new technology to create the tools that address the
needs of science.
Role for Neurolab
The astronauts' cardiac output, an indicator of changes in the autonomic
nervous sytem, will be measured before and after flight. I will study
blood flow to the brain and its role in readaptation to gravity. We are
required to work noninvasively which creates difficulties. Noninvasive
techniques by definition require working on the surface, and therefore
if we now put a lot of effort into evaluating using these "Superficial
Measurements" I think we will have taken a big step forward in health
care and health maintenance. We are doing a lot of investigations focusing
malfunctions which occur slowly.
Benefit of the Study
For example, elderly people may experience a lot of benefit in instances
intolerance. One of our main studies addresses the problem of the
inability to hold an upright position after bed rest. In space the main
body position is always relaxed, and therefore unstressed during microgravity;
I think the cardiovascular system needs stress, and if we are not stressing
the cardiovascular system and all these hydrostatic
forces as we do in an upright position with gravity, it may change
the overall regulation. As we use one of our systems to detect the changes
which may occur in space it will help us in developing detection mechanisms
which will be able to benefit those effected by orthostatic intolerance
caused when blood flow to the brain is impeded on Earth.
Using this new technology to capture tomographic pictures is demanding
because a lot of information processing is necessary to come up with the
pictures. At present the pictures are weak and far from being anatomical
representations we are used to, but in principal if you attach surface
electrodes and a very tiny amount of current with different frequencies,
you are able to show lung, heart, respiration, etc., and I assume this
new noninvasive technique will have it's future.
Normally if you do a tomographic cross-sections like in a laboratory,
you have huge machinery with which you take an electrode reading like
an ECG several times. Presently we use sixteen electrodes but with these
electrodes and a small harness and a small handheld interface device we
are able to collect the beating heart in real time. These current techniques,
these measurements of electrical resistance, have one advantage: we consist
principally of water, therefore we are very sensitive to these kind of
changes. The measurement device is very sensitive to electrical measurement
of fluid distribution, and fluid distribution is one of the most important
things we have that we can measure in space .
Likes/Dislikes about career
The whole team experience has been one of the very positive parts of
these Neurolab missions. We started out as individuals and the overall
time required to do all of our experiments in the autonomic nervous system
team was very long. As a team it became necessary to find an integrated
way to satisfy the needs of everybody. With some technical skills, for
example the LBNP (lower body negative pressure) development which was
my event, it was possible to combine individual requirements, and I think
we came up with an improvement in time necessary for our research.
The best part of the experience is the challenge of international communication:
we are also participating with the Russians. They have activities on their
station also in the cardiovascular field and our group is using the time
and resources of the Russian station also.
The worst situation is that we have to deal with a very big system,
and therefore there are a lot of skills necessary in transferring our
wishes diplomatically. Sometimes this system is receptive and sometimes
The human system is certainly a very challenging system and a lot of
questions are open and general. It is not easy to find a straight forward
way to do everything right, and a lot of disappointment will occur. One
of the main messages is: if you have an internal driver, please follow
it and never give up. Never give up even if the difficulties may increase
to such a degree that you would like to resign, you should never give
One of my daughters is at present at a senior high school in the states,
and the first one also joined the school system in Iowa for one year.
I have a third kid that is the youngest son, he is a fan of the ice hockey
teams in the states. I am always surprised, but, he would like to become
an ice hockey player. I have to equip him whenever I am here in the states.
I need to bring some of these exoskeletons (pads).
My personal hobby involves hobby railroads, small scale ones, (HO Scale).
I had one as a child, one engine and one semaphore. Now I'm looking for
different techniques to signal information. The semaphore technique in
the states is different than the one in Germany, and during a visit here
I bought one of these very old, small steam engines . The part of Germany
that I come from, Rottenburg, in the Swayden area, was colonized because
the first steam engines used in this part of Germany were American ones.
It is a dream I have: to design very advanced systems to control this
one track and several engines by computer. I would send a signal over
the track, simplify the environs, and stick all the parts and pieces together:
the switches, the turnouts; and you could program it later to add more,
with an option to run itself in several directions and several combinations,
and things like that. I'd use some kind of pulse coding so it would function
in principle the same as in our brains and our nervous systems. That's
the skill I would like to acquire.