How UNC's Dr. Stephan Moll used tech to treat an astronaut's blood clot in space

Jackie Drees - Print  | 

When NASA enlisted the help of Stephan Moll, MD, to help treat an astronaut in space with deep vein thrombosis, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine hematologist leveraged technology to treat the patient from Earth.

Dr. Moll, who serves as a professor of medicine at UNC, was the only non-NASA physician consulted when it was discovered that an astronaut on the International Space Station had a blood clot — the first case of the condition diagnosed in space, according to a Jan. 3 UNC report. The team of 11 astronauts had been undergoing ultrasounds of their internal jugular veins throughout the mission, and about two months in, the ultrasounds revealed a blood clot in the one astronaut.

The 90-day treatment process consisted of the astronaut performing ultrasounds on their own neck, which were monitored by physicians on Earth. Dr. Moll was able to communicate with the astronaut through email and phone calls to establish a treatment plan and monitor the patient's progress.

"When the astronaut called my home phone, my wife answered and then passed the phone to me with the comment, 'Stephan, a phone call for you from space.' That was pretty amazing," Dr. Moll said. "It was incredible to get a call from an astronaut in space. They just wanted to talk to me as if they were one of my other patients."

Dr. Moll advised NASA on what dosage of enoxaparin, a blood thinning drug injected into the skin, to give the astronaut to treat the blood clot while lasting long enough until a new shipment of drugs could be sent to the space station. The astronaut's course of treatment lasted about 40 days, and on day 43, the space station received a supply of the oral medication apixaban for the astronaut to take.

The astronaut stopped taking apixaban four days before returning to Earth. After returning to Earth, the individual did not require any more treatment.  

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