Academics & Research News

College of Optometry partners with NASA to fix astronauts’ vision

Despite having the best view of Earth in the galaxy, many astronauts working aboard the International Space Station aren’t taking in all the sights.

UH College of Optometry Assistant Professor Nimesh Patel will be collaborating with NASA optometrist Robert Gibson, a UHCO alumnus, on NASA’s Ocular Health Study to enhance treatment for flight-induced visual impairments in astronauts.

Patel and his colleagues, including Optometry Associate Professor Anastas Pass, discovered 21 United States astronauts aboard the International Space Station with vision problems resulting from long-term weightlessness.

The astronauts experienced abnormal farsightedness and nearsightedness, eye swelling, partial blindness and eye nerve damage. The findings were based on preliminary data from the Ocular Health Study, which already uses protocols and algorithms developed by Patel and Pass.

The project will use Spectralis Optical Coherence Tomography, a medical non-contact device and imaging software designed by Heidelberg Engineering that uses reflected light to create detailed cross-sectional and 3-D images of the eye. The technology is similar to that behind CAT scanning and MRI in general.

“Although there is inter-individual variability, the trends are similar and will provide important insights into the mechanisms involved,” Patel said in a press release.

Heidelberg Engineering recognized Patel and his contributions with the 2014 Xtreme Research Award in June.

In his acceptance speech and presentation titled OCT in Zero G, Patel explained how Spectralis OCT will allow optometrists to monitor changes in retinal and optic head anatomy in astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The Ocular Health Study investigates changes between preflight, in-flight and post-flight exams for long-term missions as a means to understanding the impact of increased intracranial pressure on the astronauts’ vision.

According to UHCO, the study of visual changes being related to intracranial pressure in astronauts is a relatively recent topic of interest in the field of space medicine. NASA told Heidelberg Engineering that Patel and his colleagues’ research will guide future study of microgravity-induced eye impairments.

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