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03-024
For Release: April 21, 2003

Researcher Looks Through the Eye To Find Disease

Technology originally developed to study fluids' behavior in the environment of space, or microgravity, is now being used to detect various eye problems earlier and more accurately than ever before.

Dr. Rafat Ansari, biofluid sensor systems scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, has utilized this "built-for-space" fiber-optic probe, based on a technique called dynamic light scattering, to detect cataracts and other eye diseases at the molecular level. The value of the probe in the early detection of cataracts has already been demonstrated in clinical trials at the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. An early detection of cataracts can help find nonsurgical cures for this disease.

The early emphasis on cataracts by Ansari is a result of his concern for his father, who had developed cataracts. But now he has modified the probe, and, with the help of renowned eye researchers around the world, is testing it as a noninvasive diagnostic measurement device for other eye diseases such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. Ansari also uses the eye as the "window to the body" to detect illnesses in the entire body. He is using the probe in tests to monitor diabetes and even Alzheimer's disease.

NASA maintains its interest in Ansari's developments because the effects of aging, such as cataracts, are similar to what happens to the body during space travel. New instruments are always being sought to diagnose and improve astronaut health. Ansari's probe is currently being used to explore the effects of reduced gravity on fluid flow in the eye through testing on the NASA KC-135 aircraft. A new instrument being developed, which resembles night-vision goggles, uses light in various forms to detect ocular and systemic abnormalities long before clinical symptoms appear. This instrument to be used in space also has obvious applications for remote health monitoring on Earth. This is an example of how human spaceflight research is being used to do exactly what NASA's vision compels it to do-improve life here on Earth.

Ansari has leveraged his work in the area of vision problems to work with various organizations in planning the Ohio's Vision…Awaken to the Challenge conference on April 28, hosted by Glenn. The conference is open to the public and will take place at the Ohio Aerospace Institute in Cleveland, adjacent to Glenn. The focus of the event is on social, economic and quality of life challenges that will result from increasing vision problems in the population, a growing statewide health issue. The scope of research being conducted in Ohio will also be reviewed at the conference, which will include a review of Ansari's work.

More information about Ansari's work can be found at: http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov/grcbio/documents/eye.pdf

More information, including registration, about the Ohio's Vision conference can be found at: http://www.preventblindness.org/Ohio/agenda.html

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