Center for Space Medicine

Improving Retinal Health for Astronauts and Earthlings


Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome, or SANS, is considered by NASA to be a major, yet unexplained risk factor to astronauts. The condition occurs most often during long-duration space missions, where vision loss could significantly impair a mission. That’s why it’s so important to better understand this phenomenon and reduce the risk for astronauts. 

During microgravity, there are fluid shifts in the body that causes increased pressure on the eyes. This can damage astronaut’s vision. The condition has also been thought to be related to increased pressure on the brain, which can result in headaches and other neurological symptoms. During a long deep-space mission, like the future journey to Mars, astronauts need to be able to literally see their mission clearly and keep their bodies and minds as healthy as possible to return safely to Earth. 

In order to better understand and mitigate the risk of SANS, TRISH partnered with Dr. Tasneem Sharma, and her team at the University of North Texas to develop a new SANS research model.


Advancing Our Understanding of SANS with Translaminar Autonomous System

With the support of TRISH, Dr. Sharma has developed the Translaminar Autonomous System, or TAS, to mimic elevated intracranial pressure (pressure that surrounds the region that connects the eyes to the brain) and intraocular pressure (the pressure within the eye), that mimics the conditions that are experienced in space. 

This model is the first of its kind and uses human donor eyes. With the platform, Dr. Sharma and her team conduct experiments including disease modeling, drug discovery, cell transplantation and gene regulation. These results will lead the way for additional therapeutic strategies, helping to safeguard retinal health. Future generations of the TAS model will include wearable pouches that astronauts can attach to their suits, gathering additional health data.

Ground-Based Applications for Earthlings

TAS allows Dr. Sharma and her team to also research other eye diseases, including glaucoma, a currently incurable condition that affects over 60 million people worldwide. Glaucoma can affect everyone – from babies to the elderly – and if left untreated, it can cause blindness. By testing retinal therapeutics and gene therapy in this organoid model, Dr. Sharma and her team can help astronauts and earthlings optimize eye health.