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Meet: Friedhelm Baisch, M.D.

Principal Investigator
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 of work.

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?
    What kind of reaction will take place by using specific drugs?
    How is the vessel system regulated ?
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 chart recorder.

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 on cardiovascular malfunctions which occur slowly.

Benefit of the Study
For example, elderly people may experience a lot of benefit in instances of orthostatic 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 not.

Advice

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 up.

Personal Information

Family

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).

Hobbies

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.


 
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