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A U.S./Russian team of experts has found that space travel may severely impair the body’s ability to regulate blood rushing to the brain. If that’s the case, it could contribute to the temporary or permanent vision problems experienced by astronauts.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers from Florida State University and Russian Academy of Sciences flag the problem.

The international research partnership is delving into the complications that occur when humans travel to space and spend weeks to months in a weightless environment.

The Russian Federal Space Agency, with the help of NASA, assembled an international team of researchers to study mice sent into space for 30 days on a Russian satellite, the Bion-M1.

On April 19, 2013 the automated Bion-M1 mission was launched carrying biological research experiments into low Earth orbit from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. When the mission returned on May 19, 2013 after the animals were in space for 30 days, scientists conducted post-flight analysis of the mice .

Bion-M1 Russian flight hardware for bioscience research is placed aboard the Bion recoverable module by Cosmodrome staff in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.  Cedit: Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)

Bion-M1 Russian flight hardware for bioscience research is placed aboard the Bion recoverable module by Cosmodrome staff in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Cedit: Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)

Message from mice

According to a press release from Florida State University, when Bion-M1 returned to Earth, the mice were whisked by ambulance to laboratories at the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow. Once there the research team investigated arteries that control blood flow to muscle, skin and the brain of the small creatures.

Their look at the brain revealed some interesting responses to the spaceflight.

“Without gravity pulling body fluids down toward the feet, fluid will rise toward the brain,” reports Florida State Professor Michael Delp. “When spaceflight alters the function of arteries that precisely regulate blood flow to the brain, it could severely affect many things, including vision.”

What next?

Now the issue remains how to solve that problem.

Delp and his Russian colleagues are looking into future experiments that may yield more answers and possible solutions. In May, another group of mice will be sent to the International Space Station for observation.

The international team of researchers worked out of a Moscow laboratory. Courtesy of Michael Delp

The international team of researchers worked out of a Moscow laboratory.
Courtesy of Michael Delp

Funding for the research was provided by NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences and M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University Program of Development.

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