Current Projects

Sponsor: NASA; Principal Investigators: David F. Dinges, PhD & Christopher W. Jones, PhD

 The success of long-duration spaceflight missions depends on astronauts’ abilities to appropriately respond to and cope with a variety of behavioral and psychosocial stressors throughout the mission, including prolonged confinement, isolation, and threat to life. NASA simulates these stressors in spaceflight analog environments to examine individual behavioral responses with the ultimate goal of predicting, preventing, and mitigating the consequences of these stressors during spaceflight. The spaceflight analog missions we have studied for NASA have varied in duration (i.e., from 1 month to 14 months) and in the severity of stressors (e.g., magnitude of confinement, social isolation, etc.). To evaluate astronaut behavioral health and performance, NASA developed “Standardized Behavioral Measures (SBM),” which is an assessment battery that probes neurocognitive and operational performance, as well as astronaut behavioral health and team cohesion.

The overarching goal of this supplement to the SBM project is to examine the neurobehavioral responses of astronauts and astronaut-like individuals across NASA spaceflight analog missions. To achieve this goal, this project will harmonize SBM data collected in three spaceflight analog environments, including 30-day missions in NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA), 14-month missions in the Neumayer-III station in the Antarctic, and 6-month missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Data harmonization involves the combination of different types of data to generate one cohesive database using individual participant data, which allows for the assessment of individual-level responses and factors both within and between analogs over time. Obstacles to data harmonization include differences in collection procedures, in dependent outcomes, and in sampling frequencies. To overcome these obstacles, this project will use a flexible data harmonization approach to integrate individual participant data from different analogs.

The project’s key deliverable is the harmonized database, along with a codebook, and data dictionary for using the harmonized database. The statistical analyses following the data harmonization will evaluate the trajectory of responses for each neurobehavioral outcome in each spaceflight analog, and determine whether these behavioral phenotypes are consistent across analogs or unique to one analog environment. The components of SBM will also be evaluated for sensitivity and specificity within each analog. The Standardized Behavioral Measures will be evaluated for redundancy using a dimensionality reduction analytic technique (e.g., principal components analysis).

Sponsor: FAA; Principal Investigator: Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc

The overarching goal of the project is to obtain nationally representative data on the relationship between aircraft noise exposure and residential sleep disturbance. Subjects will be recruited from multiple US airports to participate in a 5-night measurement campaign where physiological (heart rate, body movements) and acoustical data are collected simultaneously. These data will be used to derive current exposure-response functions describing the relationship between the maximum sound pressure level of aircraft noise events and the probability to wake up.

Sponsor: TRISH/NASA; Principal Investigator: Mathias Basner, MD, PhD, MSc

Sponsor: NASA; Principal Investigator: David F. Dinges, PhD

NASA’s vision for successful long-duration exploration missions (LDEM) depends on optimizing human performance, adaptability,and resiliency to reduce individual and crew behavioral risks. To date, the major emphasis in optimizing astronauts for their tolerance to prolonged spaceflight has involved human health and performance countermeasures as well as technologies and tools to ensure safety during exploration. However, considerable evidence suggests that there are individual differences among astronauts in their vulnerabilities to the various stressors of spaceflight. The goal of the proposed NSCOR is to obtain novel information that will help identify individuals who are resilient to the stressors of prolonged human spaceflight, thereby ensuring successful completion ofexploration missions and the preservation of astronaut health over the life of the astronaut. This NSCOR project leverages the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) heuristic framework to conduct experimental studies to identify biological domains (molecular,circuitry, physiology) and behavioral domains that relate to individual adaptation and resiliency (as well as behavioral vulnerability) in spaceflight-relevant confined and extreme environments (ICC and ICE). The NSCOR focuses specifically on differences among astronauts in their tolerance of and adaptability to simulated conditions of prolonged spaceflight that impact behavioral health and performance. The NSCOR will provide novel information on the extent to which behavioral and biological factors can be identified that predict astronauts who can maintain positive mood, proactive social processes, a high level of performance and personal wellbeing,while coping with confinement, meaningless work, limited social support, and living in the extreme environmental conditions of space. By utilizing the RDoC framework, three different human confinement analogs and an animal model, the NSCOR will generate data converging on biomarkers of neurobehavioral and neurobiological resilience to the spaceflight conditions. Such a discovery will help in selecting astronauts most likely to maintain human health and performance during long-duration exploration missions.

Sponsors: NASA and DLR/ESA; Co-Principal Investigators: Mathias Basner, MD, PhD; Alexander Stahn, PhD

This is an international collaboration consisting of 2 projects with synergistic aims that will be carried out in a joint effort by DLR/ESA and NASA. It addresses the HRP Risk of Adverse Cognitive or Behavioral Conditions and Psychiatric Disorders, HRP's requirement to demonstrate the presence or absence of unacceptable deleterious neurocognitive effects beyond the experience base of six-month expeditions, and to permit extrapolation to early interplanetary expeditions. It also addresses several other critical HRP risks and gaps (e.g., BMed1, BMed2, BMed3, BMed5, CNS-1, SM26). More specifically, we will target NASA's particular interest in studying the 'Cognitive-perceptual-visuospatial brain domain changes due to isolation and confinement' as part of the integrated One-Year Mission Project (i1YMP) on the International Space Station (ISS). The data we propose to collect will - for the first time - reliably demonstrate whether prolonging mission duration to one year will have detrimental effects on general cognitive performance (measured with the Cognition test battery), spatial cognition, structural and functional brain changes in general, and hippocampal plasticity more specifically relative to the shorter 6-month and 2-month missions. Using state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques (that include fMRI while performing the Cognition test battery in the scanner), we will determine the biological basis for any changes in cognitive performance, with a focus on hippocampal plasticity. Similar data already gathered on the ISS and in several short- and long-duration space analog environments will be used to generate a normative data base for long-duration missions. Finally, we will derive dose-response relationships between cognitive-visuospatial brain domain changes and mission duration that will allow predicting vulnerability to adverse cognitive or behavioral impairment and psychiatric disorders on interplanetary expeditions such as a mission to Mars. The two 7-yr projects will deliver a highly unique and comprehensive set of integrated neuroimaging and neurocognitive tools for the evaluation and ultimately prevention of adverse effects on brain structure and function that lead to behavioral effects associated with exploration-type missions.

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