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Earthly solution improves astronaut vision

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – NASA says up to two thirds of astronauts who spend extended amounts of time in space experience poor vision back on Earth. The culprit may be pressure changes in the brain, possibly caused by zero gravity. As trips to Mars come closer to reality, NASA and the Pacific Neuroscience Institute are teaming up to solve that problem. Researchers are turning to a relatively simple solution that begins here on Earth. 

A year ago, Karen Lemen got hydrocephalus. Doctors put in a shunt to drain fluid from her brain. That shunt made her a good candidate for a study to help astronauts, because it gives doctors easy access to measure changes in blood pressure.

Lemen explained to Ivanhoe, “I was looking for a way to give myself, and the easiest way is to just give back and participate, and be a guinea pig if you will!”

Doctor Santosh Kesari is part of a NASA-funded study to develop a device that regulates pressure in astronauts’ eyes and brain in space. This thigh cuff may be the answer. In the test, participants move, wearing the cuff, which is tightened and loosened, changing blood pressure.

“What we’re doing is measuring the pressure in real time, by hooking the shunt up to an external pressure monitor and at the same time we’re having her sit up, lie flat, or head down and then checking the pressures,” Santosh Kesari, MD, PhD, of the John Wayne Cancer Institute stated.

Early results show pressure in the brain can be adjusted by managing blood flow in the leg. Doctor Kesari is encouraged, but says there’s much work to do.

Doctor Kesari continued, “Can we use a thigh cuff at a certain pressure, certain times of the day, hours of the day, to prevent the long term consequences of that pressure change in space?”

Karen is thrilled she may help solve the puzzle for our astronauts.

There was a surprise benefit for one of the study participants: the thigh cuff relieved her chronic headaches. Doctor Kesari is working on a cuff or compression stockings to improve symptoms from pressure in the brain.

Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.