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Space Station to receive hi-tech OCT device

NASA is sending a state-of-the-art Heidelberg Engineering Spectralis imaging device to the International Space Station (ISS) to help investigate sight-affecting conditions on astronauts.

According to Optometry Today, the US-based space agency has been using OCT to investigate the effects of a microgravity environment on vision since 2013. However, the decision to install a Spectralis OCT2 device on board the ISS later this year has been viewed as the next step in NASA’s research into spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS).

The OCT2 module will be able to optimise acquisition speed and capture more complex scans on the ISS, including OCT angiography, anterior segment imaging, ultra-widefield fundus imaging and multi-colour.

The technology uses a second laser beam to actively track the eye during OCT scanning to effectively ‘freeze’ the retina and avoid motion artefacts. By doing this, it can capture precise OCT images even if the subject blinks or moves.

"Understanding changes in these structures will be critical for future long-term missions to Mars."
David Brown, Houston Methodist

“The Spectralis OCT2 module will allow us to image deeper structures in the eye that are affected by long-term space flight such as the posterior optic nerve head anatomy and the choroidal blood supply to the retina,” Houston Methodist Hospital retina specialist Dr David Brown, who leads the NASA SANS research, told Optometry Today.

“Understanding changes in these structures will be critical for future long-term missions to Mars and have applicability to terrestrial research on both retina disease and glaucoma.”

SANS can cause unilateral and bilateral optic disc oedema, while globe flattening, choroidal and retinal folds, refractive error shifts, and nerve fibre layer infarcts have also been noted. Meanwhile, recently released research from a team at Dartmouth Medical School has also indicated that the weight of an astronaut may play a role in ocular changes during spaceflight.

The study suggests that on Earth the weight of the body’s tissues presses against other bodily structures such as bones, muscles, organs, and veins, affecting pressures in blood vessels and organs throughout the body. These compressive forces increase as body weight increases, however, in microgravity body tissue is weightless, so compressive forces against the rest of the body are absent.

Because of this, people with more body tissue – and therefore a higher body weight – are proportionately more likely to experience physiological changes in a low-gravity environment because they experience a greater change in these compressive forces. The findings also revealed that none of the female astronauts analysed returned to Earth with symptoms of SANS.


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