One of the major medical challenges for interplanetary travel is that long periods without gravity can cause worsening vision. Vision Research Foundation (VRF) and the Rapanui Trust are supporting this study at Mātai Charitable Trust, medical imaging research organisation, based in Gisborne.

The study looks at how fluid around the optic nerve is affected by different pressures in the tissues around the eye. Astronauts accumulate extra fluid in the head and around the optic nerves without gravity to pull the fluid down to their legs. For those not planning a space-trip anytime soon, the study is also looking at how the optic nerve sheath moves and changes in response to different pressures to understand the mechanical properties of the optic nerve sheath.  This will help inform treatments for glaucoma, intracranial hypertension (high brain pressure), and other disorders, common optic nerve conditions and major causes of blindness.

Using specially developed goggles that apply pressure to the orbit, and new MRI signals, this project explores the changes that occur behind the eyes with different body positions and low gravity environments (i.e. in space).

Understanding the movement and mechanical properties of the orbital tissues behind the eye

could help improve assessment and management of glaucoma, intracranial hypertension, and vision problems faced by astronauts after prolonged space flight.


The pilot study began in January to explore dynamic behaviour in the tissues around the eye (including muscles that move the eyes, fat, blood vessels, and the optic nerve and its fluid-filled sheath).

This project is led by Wellington ophthalmologist Dr Jesse Gale, who has specialist training in glaucoma and neuro-ophthalmology. Dr Gale has public hospital and in private practice roles, and also at University of Otago Wellington where he teaches medical students. He has research projects underway exploring how conditions of the optic nerve are linked and differentiated and how various pressures affect the eye and optic nerveDr Gale is also developing 3D printed medical devices, studying the electrophysiology of optic nerve conditions and exploring how pressures of the eye, brain, and orbit change when the body is inverted. Dr Gale is interested in how glaucoma and other optic nerve conditions are linked and differentiated.

Dr Jesse Gale

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