Alumni in Focus
RGU Alumna and frontline NHS doctor Dr Christina Mackaill develops zero gravity method of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) suitable for astronauts in space.
The life-saving procedure involves counteracting the effect of gravity with physical movement when delivering CPR to achieve the correct pressure while in zero/micro gravity environments. The innovative method, developed under the supervision of Brazilian physician and space expert Dr Thais Russomano, has applications in several low gravity conditions such as the International Space Station (ISS) where astronauts experience weakening bones and muscles.
Christina, who graduated from RGU with a degree in Biomedical Science, currently works in A&E at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. She founded Scotland’s first Space Medicine Society (now allied with InnovaSpace and the International Space Medical Consortium) and has now presented her research to both Nasa and the European Space Agency.
“If you are floating around and weighing a lot less in space, this could be really hard to achieve. Speaking about the microgravity environment of the ISS, Christina said “The person receiving CPR needs to remain stationary, perhaps by being strapped to the floor of the ISS or anchored to someone else’s body, or the chest compressions could have lots of interruptions.”
There were a variety of approaches considered in the research including the handstand method (the rescuer flips upside down and pushes down on the astronaut’s chest by using their legs to push off a surface), and the reverse bear hug (the recipient is pulled from behind to the chest of another to stabilise them). However, the Mackaill-Russomano method allowed for increased stability and a better position for effective CPR. This is done by allowing a bend in the arms to compensate for reduced body weight in the microgravity environment.
“The ability to bend your arms, as opposed to keeping them straight and locked as on Earth, is thought to allow the rescuer to generate enough force to meet the required depth and rate to achieve good quality CPR.”
The effective application of CPR is an important aspect for astronauts to consider when spending long periods of time in space. Although there haven’t been any recorded incidents of astronauts suffering cardiac arrest in space, studies have shown that prolonged time in deep space and exposure to radiation can cause arteries to stiffen, heightening risk of heart attack or stroke.
“Astronauts need to be taught life- saving skills such as CPR as well as how to take blood, stitch a wound, give an injection and use an ultrasound machine. As we venture further to Mars — medical evacuation would likely not be an option — their medical skills will need to broaden, and they will need to be surgically capable.”
Christina also has ambitions for space travel, becoming the first Scottish woman in space. “I think it would be amazing to go to space one day if I got the chance and I would definitely apply but I also feel privileged to be doing what I love on Earth.”