ORLANDO, Fla. – UCF Health ophthalmologist Mehul Patel is preparing to study how the microgravity environment of space affects the structure and function of the eye.
Patel is one of three physicians with UCF Health working along with Axiom Space and two Israeli medical centers to conduct clinical studies with the civilian passengers of the upcoming SpaceX Crew Dragon flight.
“We wanna know what happens because we know that in longer duration space travel, gravity plays a very important role in how our body functions and how we see,” Patel said. “Space is very exciting because we don’t really have a way to mimic what happens to the body when we go into a different environment.”
[TRENDING: Seats of Orlando thrill ride where teen fatally fell were adjusted to fit larger patrons, attorney says | Alligator breeding season arrives: 4 safety tips from Gatorland experts | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]
Eytan Stibbe, a veteran of the Israeli Airforce, is one of the civilians traveling to the International Space Station who Patel will be examining. News 6 was provided video of Stibbe taking part in the pre-testing phase with Patel.
“From an eye standpoint, it’s not just the eyeball but it’s also the entire visual pathway that we’re interested in. When you’re 250 miles up in the air you’re in a microgravity environment and so, the body undergoes changes,” Patel said.
Patel will be using a noninvasive approach called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) with the comprehensive imaging device called the Spectralis HRA+OCT2 on loan to UCF from Heidelberg Engineering in Germany. This is the first space eye study that will benefit from this kind of detailed imaging.
“The type of imaging that we’re getting from the back of the eye has never been obtained before,” Patel said. “From an ophthalmology standpoint, we’re actually looking at the blood flow and blood vessels of the back of the eyeball in greater detail.”
UCF’s medical studies will also include a look at how the brain and its structure are impacted by space travel.
“There (are) changes in your bones, there (are) changes in your skin, there (are) changes in your brain. We wanna know what happens to the body as we travel in space,” Patel said. “Now we’re looking to go beyond the moon right and it’s not just astronauts that are going up. It’s actually becoming more commercial.”
Axiom’s SpaceX Crew Dragon launch is expected for Friday morning from Kennedy Space Center.