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NASA Delves into Vision Impairment

NASA has focussed its attention on the next giant space adventure – the Journey to Mars. In preparation, it has joined forces with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, to operate a new ‘Translational Research Institute’ charged with researching and developing innovative approaches to reduce risks to humans on long-duration exploration missions.

Visual Impairment Intracranial Pressure (VIIP) Syndrome is currently NASA’s leading spaceflight-related health risk. It is more predominant among men than women in space and can negatively impact vision for years post-flight.

In an effort to learn more about VIIP NASA initiated the ‘Vision Impairment and Intracranial Pressure (VIIP) project’ which, according to NASA, examined the long-term effect of “exposure to microgravity on the structure of the eye, along with change in distance and near vision of crew members before and after their return to Earth”,

Ophthalmic procedures including dilated fundus examinations with binocular ophthalmoscopy, cycloplegic refraction, optical coherence tomography, magnetic resonance imaging of orbits, and fundus photography before and after space missions have all been carried out as part of this exploratory process.

Visual Impairment Intracranial Pressure Syndrome is currently NASA’s leading spaceflight-related health risk

Findings from MRI scans suggest weightlessness may be behind pressure changes in the brain and spinal fluid. However because many astronauts do not show these effects, more advanced imaging techniques may be required. More light may be shone on VIIP when NASA’s Human Research Program kicks off in conjunction with Baylor College of Medicine in October under the Translational Research Institute Cooperative Agreement.

According to NASA’s website, “Translational research is an interdisciplinary model of research that focuses on translating fundamental research concepts into practice, with appreciable health outcomes. The NASA Translational Research Institute (NTRI) will implement a ‘bench-to-spaceflight’ model, moving results or methods from laboratory experiments or clinical trials to point-of-care astronaut health and performance applications. The goal of the research is to produce promising new approaches, treatments, countermeasures or technologies that have practical application to spaceflight.

To find out more about NASA missions and research, visit www.nasa.gov