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Renee Juhans

Headquarters, Washington, DC April 13, 1999


(Phone: 202/358-1712)

Eileen Hawley/Ann Hutchison


Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
(Phone: 281/483-5111)

NOTE TO EDITORS: N99-19

NEUROLAB TEAM TO DISCUSS RESULTS, POTENTIAL HEALTH


BENEFITS

Scientists and astronauts will gather in Washington this week


to discuss space research that may lead to better treatments for
patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease, motion sickness,
balance disorders, insomnia and other ailments.

Media representatives are invited to attend the symposium.


To schedule an interview with Neurolab researchers, reporters
should contact Renee Juhans at 202/358-1712.

More than 20 researchers will present the latest findings


from last year's Neurolab space shuttle mission at a symposium on
April 14-16 at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution
Avenue NW, Washington, DC. Members of the Neurolab crew also will
share their unique perspective on the mission and provide their
view of the science results.

Neurolab, NASA's contribution to the Decade of the Brain,


focused on expanding understanding of the brain and the central
nervous system. Its disciplined and focused studies show a strong
promise for improving life on Earth. The following selected
findings represent a few examples of the knowledge that will
evolve from the mission:

* Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy. Patients suffering from


Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy may benefit from knowledge gained
from a study that looked at how the brain maintains a sense of
direction. For example, if you have parked your car in the center
of town and then walked several blocks to run errands, how do you
find your way back to the car? By retracing your steps (path
integration)? By remembering the trees, shops and parks you
passed on the way (landmark navigation)? Alzheimer's disease and
epilepsy are fundamentally linked to damage to the hippocampus
area of the brain. Information from Neurolab on how this region
of the brain processes spatial and navigational information may
lead to improved strides in the fight against these disorders.

* Brain Injuries. The human brain has an innate


understanding of how the world works, which allows it to
anticipate movements and allows us to react appropriately. For
example, when a ball is thrown toward you, your brain interprets
the speed and location of the ball and commands your arm into a
position to catch it. People whose brains have been damaged by
injury or illness lack this innate knowledge. During the Neurolab
Ball Catch experiment, the astronauts' brains had to readapt to
the change in the speed of a ball no longer controlled by gravity.
The results from this study should lead to new diagnostic and
rehabilitation tools to help people with brain injuries.

* Muscle Atrophy. Aging or illness can cause muscles to


waste, or atrophy. Investigations have found that young animals
need normal weight-bearing activity, such as walking or running,
to establish muscle growth. In addition, a particular thyroid
hormone is required to stimulate muscles to move, allowing us to
run and walk. Studies conducted during Neurolab indicate that a
natural reduction in this hormone, which occurs during aging, may
play a key role in the wasting of muscle. This information may
help develop preventive measures to benefit those who suffer from
muscle atrophy.

* Sleep Deprivation or Disruption. On Earth and in space,


some people suffer from sleep deprivation or disruption. Sleep
studies conducted during Neurolab are expected to benefit not only
astronauts but also others who have trouble sleeping, including
shift workers, the elderly and people traveling across time zones.
Data from the studies will provide insight into the causes of
sleep disruption and whether melatonin could be an effective sleep
aid.

More information is available on the World Wide Web at URL:

http://lsda.jsc.nasa.gov/neurolab/symposium/contact.html

Neurolab investigations were carried out during a 16-day


mission in April and May 1998 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia. This
research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the
Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the
Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture and the Canadian,
European, French, German and Japanese space agencies.

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