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  1. ITV Report

Welsh university finds astronauts' brains could become 'leaky' during space travel

The research was carried out by Professor Damian Bailey at the University of South Wales. Credit: NASA/PA Images

Human brains could become 'leaky' during space travel according to research by the University of South Wales.

Professor Damian Bailey found changes in gravity and long-term space flights could weaken the blood-brain barrier that helps protect the brain.

This can then lead to swelling and increased pressure in the brain which, according to Professor Bailey, NASA have identified as "the top health risk for long-duration spaceflight".

The research used weightless environments to simulate spaceflights and then measured blood flow to different parts of the brain.

The simulations used by Professor Bailey are the best ground-based simulation of human spaceflight that currently exists. Credit: USW

The research looked at what impact long-term exposure to a weightless environment could have on the human brain and in particular, any link it may have to a condition called neuro-ocular syndrome

The condition, which can be caused by spaceflight, can lead to blurred vision and headaches.

Professor Bailey's research was funded by the French Space Agency (CNES) and used an aircraft dubbed the "vomit comet" which simulates a weightless environment.

The specialist aeroplane, which is based in Bordeaux in France, flies a series of sharp ascents and descents. Zero-gravity is felt during the 20-second dives.

During the experiments, Professor Bailey measured blood flow to different parts of the brain and took blood samples before, during and after the weightless periods

Professor Bailey found that blood flow to the back of the brain increased when it becomes weightless. This then led to a more 'leaky' barrier between the brain and blood.

The blood-brain barrier that helps protect the brain became progressively ‘leakier’, which could lead to both swelling and rising pressure inside the brain.

These findings are the first to suggest that major difference in gravitational pressure on human – for example when taking off and going into space or returning to Earth or landing on another planet - can increase blood-brain barrier permeability.

Preventing this may help prevent spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome and improve an astronaut’s brain health.

– Professor Damian Bailey