Brinda Rana, a professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, has been awarded NASA funding to study fluid flows in the brains of identical twin astronauts—one of whom will spend a year in space, while the other is left on Earth.
Her project, one of 10 funded through NASA’s $1.5-million twin astronaut study, will look at how long-term space flight, such as a trip to Mars, affects fluid pressure in the brain and its implications for vision, during and after space travel has ended.
“Our bodies are adapted to an environment in which gravity pools fluids toward our legs,” Rana said. “In space, fluid flows upward. Our project will examine the effects of spaceflight on the proteins that regulate vasoconstriction and dilation, and fluid regulation.”
Only one set of twins – astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly – has ever been to space, making them “an unprecedented opportunity” for scientists to learn about the physiological and molecular effects of space flight, NASA officials say.
“Studying identical twins enable us to control for 100 percent of genetic factors and shared environmental factors,” Rana said.
In March 2015, Scott will begin a one-year stay on the International Space Station while his brother, Mark, will remain on Earth and serve as “ground control.” Mark is the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) who suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was shot in the head outside a grocery store in 2011.
The standard stay on the space station is approximately six months. No human has ever lived in space for an entire year. The twin project will gather medial information needed for more distant exploration of the solar system, such as a trip to Mars.
“NASA needs to understand the long-term impact of these missions in order to identify strategies to monitor health outcomes and reduce health risks,” she said.
— UC San Diego press release by Christina Johnson
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