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Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) in Microgravity

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) in Microgravity
NASA is currently addressing spaceflight-induced Visual Impairment and Intracranial Pressure (VIIP) through medical operations monitoring and research activities. An important component of these activities is the visualization of the crewmembers' retinas inflight. The retinal imaging technology currently available on ISS does not have sufficient resolution to allow accurate diagnosis and evaluation of crewmembers' retinas inflight, and usability problems have been identified. An upgraded digital fundoscope (retinal camera) was recently evaluated and approved for flight to ISS, but the clinical and research consensus indicates a pressing need for the added functionality provided by Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT). OCT allows high resolution infrared imaging of the retinal surface, retinal nerve fiber layer thickness analysis, and other clinical and research functions. Based on an extensive market survey and initial testing, the Heidelberg Engineering Spectralis OCT scanner is the primary candidate for flight to ISS. While the OCT device itself is commercially available off the shelf (COTS) and FDA approved, the spaceflight deployment of this technology is far less mature due to the gravity-dependent base and maneuvering stage that is supplied with the COTS unit. In a microgravity environment, the COTS OCT device would be considered a low or medium fidelity system; this configuration has been flown in parabolic flight which identified several areas of hardware deficiency. Additionally, OCT scans are typically acquired by trained clinicians who use the device on a regular basis. Spaceflight operation requires development of a minimally trained user operations concept, training that occurs months prior to launch, and potentially remote guidance during an exam. These factors represent a unique blend of technological and training challenges that need to be solved prior to the successful use of OCT in microgravity. Further, there are knowledge gaps with regards to the use of this technology in microgravity. The primary use of OCT clinically is the examination of retinal fiber layer thickness in the retina. However, due to extended depth imaging (EDI) mode available on the Spectralis OCT, it is also possible to examine the choroid thickness (vascular layer behind the retina) and possibly the lamina cribrosa (the mesh-like structure where the optic nerve transitions to retina at the back of the globe of the eye). This flight opportunity would allow the evaluation of OCT to image these structures during microgravity and provide information about optimal instrument scan settings. Physiological information about these structures will be collected during hypo- and hyper-gravity, which will add to the knowledge base regarding the causes and potential mitigations of the VIIP syndrome in spaceflight crewmembers. This proposal intends to address both a technology need and knowledge needs through the integration of hardware development, procedures and training development, and scientific inquiry. The team will test multiple hardware configurations of the OCT scanner for effectiveness in microgravity; alternate methods of using each configuration will be evaluated. Throughout the evaluation, scanning parameters will be optimized to collect physiological information during hypo- and hyper-gravity. Expected outcomes of this evaluation are 1) a ranked list of acceptable hardware configurations, 2) optimized procedure and training products for each hardware configuration, and 3) knowledge regarding the limits of OCT technology to detect physiological processes such as choroidal engorgement. The maturation of this technology will serve the medical, research, and training communities at NASA. Additionally, the approach of combining hardware, medical, research, and training inputs early in the implementation flow can serve as a model for rapid deployment of novel technologies within the ISS Program and future spaceflight programs. More »

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Technology Maturity (TRL)

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