John Wayne Cancer Institute researchers studying brain swelling caused by space travel

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SoCal researchers hope a new study will help make space travel safer for astronauts. (KABC)

Doctors at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica are working with a NASA group to test ways to make space travel safer for astronauts.

The study aims to find out how to control the problem of brain swelling during space travel.

"The pressure in their brain can change, especially over a prolonged period of time, and they can get headaches or visual problems," Dr. Santosh Kesari with the John Wayne Cancer Institute explained.

Lorraine Hoffman, 66, suffers from hydrocephalus, and has dealt with memory and walking issues. Her father, uncle and son all worked in space exploration.

"I want to give back. I want to be a part of the space program and to help people suffering from hydrocephalus," Hoffman said.

Researchers said Hoffman was the perfect candidate for the study because she has hydrocephalus and has a shunt in her brain, which helps scientists measure fluid pressure.

"We have easy access to be able to measure the spinal fluid pressure without having to do a spinal tap," Kesari said.

Researchers can mimic anti-gravity conditions by tilting Hoffman's head at various angles. The ultimate goal of the study is to test the effectiveness of a NASA-developed leg cuff, which was designed to relieve intra-cranial pressure and can be worn inside a space suit.

"For this study, what we are trying to show is that we can measure and change the pressure in the brain with the cuff," Kesari said.

Kesari said the cuff could be activated when needed during takeoff, re-entry and long space journeys.

While humankind has its sights set on Mars, scientists said the research could also lead to non-surgical ways to treat brain swelling on Earth.
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