Central Florida Roundup
Imec working on blood analysis device for future astronauts
Blood Analysis in Space
Imec, a Belgium-based nanotechnology research firm with a design center in Osceola County’s NeoCity, is working on a disposable blood testing device that may one day help monitor astronauts’ health in space.
A prototype, developed by an imec spinoff called miDiagnostics, can perform a complete blood count (CBC) — which measures red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets — from just a few drops of blood. The core of the technology is a “nanofluidic processor,” a lab-on-a-chip device that doesn’t require the pumps or valves typically used to process blood samples.
The next step is to determine whether the device will work in space as well as it does on Earth. Ryan Honeycutt, a company spokesperson, says tests will be conducted soon aboard weightless, zero-gravity flights out of Orlando Sanford International Airport that are being financed with a grant from NASA.
Currently, astronauts collect blood samples in space, but the samples can’t be analyzed until they’re returned to Earth. As Americans enter a new era of human space exploration — and venture farther and longer into space — they’ll need real-time tools to help them diagnose and treat illness and injury.
Space flight can have profound effects on human health, causing headaches, nausea, vomiting and disorientation. In the long term, it can cause everything from muscle and bone loss to elevated levels of stress hormones, blood volume loss and cardiovascular deconditioning.
- Under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, American astronauts are slated to return this year to the International Space Station aboard U.S. spacecraft for the first time since 2011. The space capsules are currently under development by two private contractors, SpaceX and Boeing. But a November 2019 audit report by the NASA Office of Inspector General says the project is being delayed by “significant safety and technical challenges” that could leave just one American astronaut aboard the space station in the spring of 2020. While NASA paid Boeing $287.2 million beyond its original “firm-fixed-price” contract to try to “mitigate” an anticipated 18-month gap in flights to the space station, the inspector general concluded that $187 million of that amount was unnecessary. Under a firm-fixed-price contract, a company typically has to eat the costs if a project goes over budget, although NASA’s Commercial Crew Program contracts allow for “equitable adjustments” under certain situations, such as if there are technical deficiencies or schedule delays. Also, SpaceX was not offered an opportunity to “propose a solution” to the “potential crew transportation gap” even though it “offered shorter production lead times than Boeing,” according to the audit, which concluded it would have been “prudent” and “fair” to contact both companies.
- Lockheed Martin plans to lay off 79 workers at its rotary and missions systems division in West Melbourne because it lost a contract with the Army.
- Andrea Wesser-Brawner is Orange County’s first chief innovation and emerging technology officer. She had been senior vice president of strategy and partnerships for the International Business Association, a non-profit that leads entrepreneurship support organizations.
- Sanford city officials launched a tax rebate program they hope will spark the construction of hotels, class A office space and other projects. The rebate will provide tax breaks of up to 100% for up to 10 years for approved projects, allowing the city to assist companies that don’t meet the state’s Qualified Target Industry program.
- Delaware North, which operates the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for NASA, has ditched plans to build a $23-million sports arena and hotel complex in downtown Titusville.
- Health First plans to open three “wellness villages” in Merritt Island, Melbourne and Palm Bay and relocate its Cape Canaveral Hospital to the Merritt Island location. The villages will combine traditional medical services — such as outpatient procedures, imaging and diagnostics — with walking trails and space for retail, food, fitness and community events. Construction of the five-year, $600-million project will begin this year in Melbourne and Merritt Island.
- Tennessee-based Provision Healthcare is building a proton therapy treatment center in Horizon West in Orange County. Orlando Health operates a proton therapy unit at Orlando Regional Medical Center downtown.
- Chris O’Leary, an independent director of Orlando-based Tupperware, was named interim CEO, replacing Tricia Stitzel, who stepped down as chairman and CEO in November after 18 months in the job.
- The Henin Group, a Central Florida developer and builder of the 240-acre Riviera Bella community in DeBary, purchased 34 acres in Tavares, where it plans to build a 115-home community called Stokes Groves.
- Pat Williams, former general manager and co-founder of the Orlando Magic, is spearheading an effort to bring a Major League Baseball team to Orlando.
- Epos Now, a U.K.-based payment software company that opened an office in Orlando in 2015, purchased space downtown and plans to double its staff this year.
- SUSS MicroTek, a German equipment supplier for the semiconductor industry, inked an agreement with BRIDG in Osceola County to bring its equipment and expertise onsite. BRIDG CEO Chester Kennedy said in a news release that SUSS MicroTek’s tools will enable BRIDG’s customers to design microelectronic systems that are faster, smaller, lighter and use less power.
- Eurowings is launching three non-stop flights per week between Munich and Orlando International Airport in April. Spirit Airlines will begin flying non-stop from Orlando to Charleston, W.V., this month.
- A $20-million federal transportation grant will fund several projects in Lake Nona, including a transportation hub at the Lake Nona Town Center, walking and bike paths and autonomous vehicle lanes.
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