What happens to brain when astronaut travels to space?

A radiologist at MUSC and her team found out the effects of space travel on the brains of astronauts by conducting a unique study

Scientists have long been studying the effect of space travel on astronauts' brains. Now, a team at the Medical University of South Carolina has found out that travelling to space causes the brain to narrow at its crest and shift in its skull; however, the researchers still don't know how lasting those effects can be on the astronauts.

Dr. Donna Roberts, a radiologist at MUSC, and her team studied 34 astronauts, who had traveled to space. There were two groups of astronauts involved in the study – while half of the astronauts had been to space for about three months; the other half had only been there for short periods of time.

After comparing the scan reports of both the groups, Dr. Roberts and her team found out changes in brain structure among those astronauts who had spent more time in space. The parts of the brain affected were related to the control of motor skills and decision making, among other functions. However, Dr. Roberts emphasized that more analysis and follow-up are needed to find out whether or not the effects of space travel stay with astronauts once they return to regular gravity on Earth.

Dr. Roberts had acquired the brain scan reports of the astronauts from NASA and her research results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"If you just look at the scans, you don't see anything abnormal. It's when you put those two scans side-by-side that you see a dramatic shift. I think that's how it was missed in the past," said Dr. Donna Roberts.

The research and its findings have come to light at a time when commercial flight into space is becoming more and more common. Several private organizations, other than the government facilities, are sending crew and cargo to space on a regular basis these days, including SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk of Tesla and Blue Origin, own by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos.

The companies are also planning to send common public to space in the near future. Although the prospect of space traveling is quite exciting for common public, Roberts and her team believe more studies, examinations, understandings, and protections against the health risks are required to safeguard the health of those who travel to space.

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This is the first time an analysis of this kind has been done, although past studies by other researchers have studied other impacts of space travel on the body.