New procedures could allow astronauts to stay in space for longer periods of time

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SOUTH BEND, Ind.--- Exploring space; for retired astronaut Ken Bowersox there's nothing like it.

"It's kind of a dream like experience, to be able to float around while you're working," said Bowersox.

Bowersox completed five missions, including one to the International Space Station, but a weightless environment can take its toll.

"On every one of my flights I noticed that additional pressure in my head," said Bowersox.

Remember standing on your head as a kid, and after a minute or so you felt lots of pressure?

Scientists say the same thing happens when astronauts fly into space.

NASA scientists believe the loss of gravity is putting pressure on the brain, causing vision changes in astronauts that could jeopardize future long term missions.

Now new cutting edge devices could help answer those questions and help us here on earth.

"There are a number of changes in the microgravity environment," said Dr. Eric Bershad, a Neurologist at Baylor College of Medicine.

That's why Dr. Bershad has developed a new non-invasive way to measure brain health without the use of a spinal tap, or hole in the skull.

"This could potentially not only benefit astronauts, but also millions of people on earth," said Dr. Bershad.

Using ultrasound, the device measures blood flow through the eye artery.

Another device developed by Dr. Chethan Rao, also a Neurologist at the Baylor College of Medicine, called Cerebrotech uses low energy radio waves to measure brain volume changes.

"The blood, the fluid and the brain," said Dr. Rao.

Both devices could be used as an early detection for brain injuries in space, or here at home.

The devices could help the two million patients admitted to hospitals for strokes, and brain trauma, each year.

In space, we could see a yearlong mission on the International Space Station next year, and future missions to Mars could last two to three years, making work in this area critical for future mission success.


TOPIC: Interstellar Brain Monitoring
REPORT: MB #3868

BACKGROUND: Intracranial pressure occurs when there is a rise in cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, or when there is a rise in the pressure in the brain itself. The causes can be a mass in the brain, bleeding into the brain/fluid around the brain, or swelling within the brain. This pressure can damage the spinal cord or brain by pressing on important structures or restricting blood flow to the brain. This condition can't be prevented; however common causes of intracranial pressure include, but are not limited to, tumors, head injuries, aneurysms, hemorrhaging, stroke, and meningitis. Headaches, blurred vision, changes in alertness, seizures and other neurological problems are signs to seek immediate medical attention.

TRADITIONAL MONITORING: Traditional Intracranial Pressure Monitoring (ICP) can be done three ways which involve drilling into the skull. The most accurate procedure is by using an interventricular catheter; a hole is drilled into the skull and the catheter is inserted into the lateral ventricle which contains cerebrospinal fluid. The ICP method can drain fluid through the catheter while monitoring. If monitoring needs to be done immediately, the subdural screw method is used; a hollow screw is inserted through a hole drilled in the skull and placed through the dura mater, allowing measurements to be taken from inside the subdural space. An epidural sensor is less invasive than the other methods; once a hole is drilled in the skull, the sensor is inserted between the skull and dural tissue. This procedure will not remove excess cerebrospinal fluid.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: In collaboration with the Kaunas Institute of Technology in Lithuania, Eric Bershad, M.D., of Baylor College of Medicine and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute have developed a new non-invasive way to measure ICP and assess elevated brain pressure in patients and perhaps future astronauts. Dr. Bershad told Ivanhoe that the Vittamed device uses ultrasound-based measurements through the eye artery, "since the ophthalmic artery runs both inside and outside of the skull, the intracranial pressure will affect the way blood flows in the part of the artery inside the brain. This can be compared with the flow in the extracranial eye artery segment. The differences can then be analyzed to determine the intracranial pressure." Another device developed to measure brain volume changes is Cerebrotech which can detect early stages of brain bleeding or swelling using low energy radio waves. The future vision of the device is to allow astronauts to continuously wear it to monitor changes in cerebral fluids.


Sheryl E. Taylor
Senior Coordinator Mktg. Comm.
Corporate Communications
CHI St. Luke's Health
(832) 355-5717