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The Human BBB In Space - The effect of space flight and exposure to microgravity on the blood-brain barrier (BBB) as a potential platform for treating Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Itzik Cooper, Head of the Blood-Brain Barrier Group at the Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center, Sheba Medical Center
Prof. Yael Mardor, Chief Scientist and Head of the Magnetic Resonance (MR) Imaging Research Group at the Advanced Technology Center at the Sheba Medical Center

Proper functioning of the brain cells is vital to the body’s proper functioning. To protect the sensitive brain tissue, the walls of the blood vessels which supply the brain are coated with a special tissue which prevents ingress of toxins and infections from the bloodstream to the brain. They also enable removing waste from the brain into the bloodstream. These are named Blood-Brain-Barrier, or BBB. Functional damage to the BBB is linked to the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The barrier also poses a clinical challenge, since it prevents the transfer of medicines from the bloodstream into the brain tissue. This is required for treating neurodegenerative diseases.

In this research, the Sheba Medical Center scientists seek to examine whether exposure to microgravity in space leads to a change in the way the blood-brain barrier functions. The persons being launched into space will undergo advanced non-invasive tests - advanced processing protocols of brain MRI scan outputs and extraction of protein markers from blood tests before and after the flight, which will enable demonstrating the changes that have taken place in the barrier’s functioning as a result of space travel and the stay in microgravity conditions. The expected findings from this groundbreaking research will help develop way of influencing the BBB function and the passage of materials through it - both in removing the toxic waste proteins and in admitting medication. Such capabilities will enable Alzheimer and other neurodegenerative diseases to be treated and will be of help to large numbers of patients worldwide.

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