Current Behavioral Health Research

Principal Investigator: Antiño Allen, Ph.D.

Research: Photobiomodulation to Ameliorate Neuronal Degeneration and Cognitive Decline after Mixed Field Irradiation

Institution: University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Little Rock, Ark.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Problem Addressed: Exposure to space irradiation presents a significant risk to flight crews in the course of prolonged space exploration, yet there is currently no therapy that can reverse the effect of radiation-induced cognitive dysfunction.

Major Aim of Project: To identify specific components of the central nervous system that are most vulnerable to radiation injury, as well as investigate the space-relevant dose-response parameters for photobiomodulation as radiation countermeasure.

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Principal Investigator: Allison Anderson, Ph.D.

Research: Performance Enhancement Through Multi-Modal Stochastic Resonance

Institution: University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, Co.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Problem Addressed: Optimizing astronaut performance in operational spaceflight environments.

Major Aim of Project: To investigate the operational benefit of brain stimulation with stochastic resonance.

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Principal Investigator: Mathias Basner, M.D., Ph.D.

Research: Advanced Algorithms for the Prediction of Adverse Cognitive and Behavioral Conditions in Space

Institution: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Degen/ CVD

Project: Astronauts must maintain high levels of cognitive performance while facing the many challenges of the spaceflight environment. The ability to predict cognitive performance decrements would be very useful and promote mission success. In previous work with NASA, Drs. Basner and Dinges collected cognitive performance and self-report data from 24 astronauts on 6-month missions on the International Space Station. For TRISH, their team will add information on environmental stressors – like CO2, radiation, and noise levels. The resulting database will be the basis for individualized, machine learning algorithms that predict cognitive performance. These algorithms can help identify the most relevant spaceflight stressors and function as early predictors of cognitive performance decrements in astronauts.

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Principal Investigator: David Dinges, Ph.D.

Research: Evaluation of SmartSleep Technology for Improving the Efficiency and Restorative Quality of Sleep in Healthy Adults in Order to Mitigate Cognitive Performance Deficits Due to Sleep Restriction and Emergency Awakenings

Institution: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Project: Astronauts must maintain high-level cognitive functioning during space missions and remain able to respond quickly to emergencies, which can occur at any time.  Both sleep duration and sleep quality can be reduced in spaceflight, leading to deficits in alertness and cognitive functions, as well as increased stress and physical exhaustion.  Dr. Dinges is using the “SmartSleep” wearable device to test the impact of inaudible slow waves as a way to improve sleep quality and increase cognitive functions during reduced sleep periods and sudden awakenings, which can occur in spaceflight.

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Principal Investigator: Jacek Dmochowski, Ph.D.

Research: Boosting Brain Metabolism in Spaceflight with Transcranial Photobiomodulation

Institution: City College of New York, New York, N.Y.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Project: Despite sometimes less than optimal conditions, astronauts must always be ready to perform tasks that require high levels of cognitive abilities.  Light in the near-infrared range has been shown to stimulate vascular and metabolic function in a variety of cells.  Dr. Dmochowski proposed to develop a new technique to enhance brain function by applying safe levels of laser light to the forehead.  The light treatment may help to improve attention and working memory by increasing the energy available to neurons.  This technology would be easy to apply during space travel and could enhance astronauts’ performance on mental tasks.

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Principal Investigator: Pengyu Hong, Ph.D.

Research: Predicting individual differences in learning and performance using machine learning methods for dynamic stabilization in a spaceflight analog task

Institution: Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.
Start Date: 
Oct. 1, 2018
End Date: Sept. 30, 2019
TRISH Synergy Project: PI Paul Dizio, Vivekanand Vimal
Study Type: Ground Study

NASA Risk Addressed: HSID

Problem Addressed: This project investigates which mathematical metrics are the core metrics that predict performance and learning, which metrics are redundant and dependent on other metrics, and to determine whether the same classifier can be generalized to different conditions and paradigms.

Major Aim of Project: This project aims to develop and customize the machine learning architecture for a Space Flight Analog Environment at Brandeis University (Paul Dizio, Vivekanand Vimal).

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Principal Investigator: Matteo Lai, CEO

Research: EmbraceX

Company: Empatica, Inc.
Start date: April 1, 2019
End date: March 31, 2020
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Project: Empatica Inc. is developing a space-ready wearable health monitor. A traditional medical device electronics development process will be applied using state-of-the-art sensors, materials, and machine learning technologies. The durable and low-power EmbraceX device will be capable of sensing different physiological parameters to enable whole real-time health monitoring.

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Principal Investigator: Donna Roberts, M.D.

Research: Safety and Efficacy of an Accelerated Protocol of Intermittent Theta Burst Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to Enhance Performance and Promote Resilience in Astronauts

Institution: Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Stability

Problem Addressed: Given the extreme conditions and stressful situations that will be encountered on exploration class missions, crews must demonstrate peak performance and resilience.

Major Aim of Project: To develop and establish the efficacy of accelerated repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) as a non-pharmacological method for enhancing cognitive performance and resilience in high-performing healthy adults of astronaut age.

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Principal Investigator: Josh Ruben, Co-Founder

Research: Project Atlas

Company: Z3VR
Start date: May 1, 2019
End date: April 30, 2020
Study type: Ground study

Project: Z3VR is developing a space-suitable virtual reality (VR) game that could improve physical fitness and mental well-being.  The VR game will have an exercise mode, which will use real-time heart and respiration rates to influence the difficulty and intensity of physically challenging tasks.  The use of VR allows users to participate in a variety of exercises, increasing adherence to a physical fitness routine.  The game will also have a meditation module that uses biometric data to achieve optimal heart rate by varying the user’s environment, increasing mood-boosting benefits. 

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Principal Investigator: Giulio Tononi, M.D., Ph.D.

Research: OASIS: Optimizing Auditory Stimulation to Improve Cognitive Performance Using SmartSleep

Institution: University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Project: Many astronauts do not get enough sleep, which is known to negatively affect brain function. Dr. Tononi’s group is evaluating ways to optimize sleep without medication, using sounds that increase the type of brain waves that are most restorative during sleep. Their project will conduct the first long-term test to determine how different sound patterns affect next day performance. Subjects will use a wearable device (SmartSleep) capable  of delivering sounds ina variety of ways during deep sleep, and a short-term cognitive test developed specifically for astronauts will be administered multiple times per day. The results will determine the behavioral effects of the system, and identify what optimizations are needed to use this technology in spaceflight.

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Principal Investigator: Vivekanand Vimal, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator: Vivekanand Vimal, Ph.D.

Research: Predicting individual differences in learning to manually stabilize attitude in a space flight analog environment.

Mentor: Paul DiZio, Ph.D. 
Institution: Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass.
Start Date: Dec. 1, 2017
End Date: Nov. 30, 2019
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Sensorimotor Alterations (SM)  

Project: On the journey to the Moon or to Mars, astronauts will experience multiple gravitational transitions that will make them susceptible to spatial disorientation that can jeopardize the mission.  In the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab we strap blindfolded humans into a device that is programmed to behave like an inverted pendulum.  The participants are instructed to dynamically stabilize themselves using a joystick. In our spaceflight analog condition, the participants are unable to use gravitational cues to determine their location and they become very spatially disoriented. In the first specific aim, we are developing a battery of tests and techniques, including machine learning, to predict the huge individual differences in participants that we find in the spaceflight analog task. In the second specific aim, we are developing an effective training program that will enhance performance in the spaceflight analog condition for all participants. 

See Dr. Vimal discuss his research.

Principal Investigator: Seung-Schik Yoo, Ph.D.

Research: Wearable Modular Focused Ultrasound Systems for Non-Invasive Stimulation of the Human Brain During Deep Space Exploration

Institution: Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Biomedical

Project: Long duration space missions present many mental challenges to astronauts, also requiring them to perform challenging tasks in a stressful environment.  A new technique called transcranial focused ultrasound allows focused delivery of ultrasound waves to stimulate small regions of the brain, including deep brain areas.  Dr. Yoo is working to develop a lightweight, wearable focused ultrasound device that could be used during space flight to modulate brain activity. If successful, such a system could provide a unique way to stimulate the brain to regain or enhance performance during exploration missions.

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Previously Funded Behavioral Health Research

Principal Investigator: Eva Sevick-Muraca, Ph.D.

Research: Quantification of the lymphatic pump strength and assessment of CSF drainage into the lymphatics during HDT

Institution: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, Texas
Start Date: May 1, 2017 
End Date: July 31, 2018
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS)