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Liao Lectures at Space Station Conference

Jul 26 2018

Posted In:

20/20 Blog

San Francisco, CA — The majority of astronauts who travel in space for a prolonged period of time experience vision loss. Some vision problems are resolved after returning to earth, but others are irreversible. This was a critical issue addressed at the annual International Space Station Research and Development (ISSR&D) conference. 

Stanford Ophthalmologists Joyce Liao M.D., Ph.D., Director of Neuro-ophthalmology, and Vinit Mahajan M.D., Ph.D., Director of Molecular Surgery at the Beyer’s Eye Institute, are in the unique position to use powerful proteomics technology to understand the molecular health effects of microgravity and radiation on astronauts. 

Dr. Liao noted, “Space travel impacts the health of 100% of astronauts.” 


A questionnaire given to 300 astronauts who spent six months in space revealed that 60% of them experienced degradation in distant and near visual acuity. Even on short duration missions, 29% of astronauts experienced vision changes. Vision loss can impair an astronauts ability to conduct vital research during their mission. 

Liao’s and Mahajan’s proposal “Profiling Health Changes in Prolonged Space Travel Using Proteomics” was selected for presentation at the conference. 

Dr. Liao said, “Our major focus will be on the eye-brain network, since a majority of astronauts experience vision changes due to optic disc swelling. If we can identify the molecules, we may be able to treat and prevent vision loss.” 

Using the blood and cerebrospinal fluid of individual astronauts, Liao and Mahajan hope to measure the levels of 1000 proteins important in inflammation, metabolism, and cell signaling. This kind of personalized molecular medicine will allow Liao and Mahajan to understand and find treatments for diseases specifically related to space travel.

“The scientific work that astronauts do in space is crucial to our understanding of the universe as well as our understanding of our own planet. Keeping them healthy as they make great personal sacrifices to benefit all of us should be a high priority,” said Mahajan. 

The ISSR&D conference showcased groundbreaking research being conducted in microgravity aboard the International Space Station by innovators, academia, and government. There were nearly 70 poster presentations and exhibits displaying project concepts and research results. ISSR&D demonstrated its dedication to STEM through its focus on innovation and collaboration. 

Joyce Liao M.D., Ph.D. (center) stands with NASA astronauts Randy Bresnik (left) and Mark Vande Hei (right).