Sunday, January 18, 2009

NASA Cataract detection down to Earth

Cataracts are common among long-term space-travelers, the most common and earliest among the symptoms of unhealthy exposure to radiation, Cosmic Rays in particular. On earth, susceptibility to cataracts, is primarily a genetically inherited trait. In space, it will up an astronaut's place on the percentage scale of the dreaded "lifetime probability of Radiation Exposure Induced Death, or "REID."

Once that probability reaches 4 percent, you're grounded. Fortunately, a year on the International Space Station adds, perhaps, a single percentage point, as will a week on the Moon. Headed for Mars? Present technology, according to the Space Studies Board, will only insure a percent will exceed such a safety margin, which is one demonstration of how far the road ahead is for manned deep space exploration to become common.

Now, according to, A device developed for the space program is now also valuable for eye care patients as the first noninvasive early detection device for cataracts, the leading cause of vision loss worldwide.

Researchers from the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) collaborated to develop a simple, safe eye test for measuring a protein related to cataract formation. If subtle protein changes can be detected before a cataract develops, people may be able to reduce their cataract risk by making simple lifestyle changes, such as decreasing sun exposure, quitting smoking, stopping certain medications and controlling diabetes.

"By the time the eye's lens appears cloudy from a cataract, it is too late to reverse or medically treat this process," said Manuel B. Datiles III, M.D., NEI medical officer and lead author of the study. "This technology can detect the earliest damage to lens proteins, triggering an early warning for cataract formation and blindness."

The new device is based on a laser light technique initially developed to analyze the growth of protein crystals in a zero-gravity space environment. NASA's Rafat R. Ansari, Ph.D., senior scientist at the John H. Glenn Research Center and co-author of the study, brought the technology's possible clinical applications to the attention of NEI vision researchers when he learned that his father's cataracts were caused by changes in lens proteins.

Read more HERE.

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