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Published:  April 9, 2012

Physician Receives Grant from Center for Space Medicine to Study the Effects of Prolonged Gravity Loss on Sense of Smell

Eric M. Bershad, MD, St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital and Assistant Professor of Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), recently received a grant to study the effects of body position and elevated intracranial pressure (high pressure in the brain) in humans with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH).

IIH is a neurological disorder characterized by increased intracranial pressure in the absence of a tumor or other disease. Dr. Bershad will study two groups—patients with IIH and a control group of healthy volunteers—to assess the effects of chronically increased intracranial pressure on the olfactory (smell) function, which may be impaired due to excessive cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) congestion. A goal of this study is to positively link IIH patients with long-duration astronauts.

In both populations, some patients report a loss in their sense of smell, impaired vision, nasal congestion and/or headaches. Similarities in these conditions’ pathogenesis may be to blame. In astronauts, the prolonged gravity loss is thought to lead to chronic congestion of venous blood and CSF in the brain. Similar findings may occur in IIH patients for different reasons. Dr. Bershad’s research will benefit many, but it is of specific interest in the Houston area, where a number of current and retired astronauts, who would benefit from further studies of microgravity on the body, reside.

“This study will not only help us learn more about astronauts who are traveling in space for an extended period of time, but it will also benefit IIH patients, or other patients with elevated intracranial pressure,” says Dr. Bershad. “We hope to prove a positive correlation between the two groups and indicate the effects felt by both are due to impaired circulation of cerebrospinal fluid causing increased pressure on the olfactory bulb, which is related to one of the important CSF drainage pathways.” 

Dr. Bershad received the grant from the Center for Space Medicine, established by BCM in 2008. BCM is the lead institution in the consortium studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight and developing the medical technologies needed for long missions on behalf of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute.

The study, which began recruiting healthy volunteers and IIH subjects in this month, will continue through March 2013. Anyone interested in participating in the study, contact Dr. Bershad’s office, located at 6550 Fannin, Suite 1801, at 713-798-5972.
 


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