NASA has conducted and sponsored a wealth of studies to counter the effects of orthostatic intolerance, especially since the condition could prevent an astronaut from exiting a landed spacecraft in the event of an emergency. In one study conducted by Johnson Space Center’s Cardiovascular Laboratory, astronauts in orbit tested the efficacy of a drug called midodrine that has successfully reduced orthostatic intolerance in patients on Earth. The early results were promising, but further testing will be conducted by the laboratory before more conclusive results can be determined. In another study, the laboratory is using a controlled tilt test on Earth to replicate the body’s responses to a shift from reclining to sitting or standing.
At Ames Research Center, researchers are utilizing NASA’s 20-G artificial gravity centrifuge machine in a pilot study on cardiovascular responses and fluid shifts in the body. A separate Ames study is evaluating the possibility of expanding astronauts’ plasma volumes (the fluid part of the blood, minus the blood cells), as a preventative measure.
In NASA-sponsored research at Vanderbilt University, researchers have successfully identified a genetic cause for orthostatic intolerance. The findings marked the first time a genetic defect had been linked to a disorder of the autonomic immune system, according to the discoverers, and could eventually lead to new drugs and treatments for the condition.
At Kennedy Space Center, a collaborative research effort with the U.S. Army and private industry has yielded an important application for a new, non-invasive medical device called ResQPOD that is now available for astronauts returning from space. In helping to reacquaint the astronauts with the feeling of gravity, ResQPOD quickly and effectively increases the circulation of blood flow to the brain. This device is also available to the public as a means to enhance circulation for breathing patients suffering from orthostatic intolerance and for non-breathing patients suffering cardiac arrest or other high-risk clinical conditions attributed to low blood pressure.
Advanced Circulatory Systems Inc., of Minneapolis, collaborated with Kennedy and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research for more than 5 years to develop ResQPOD. Don Doerr, an engineer at Kennedy, led the testing and development effort; Dr. Victor Convertino of the Institute of Surgical Research (and a former NASA scientist at Kennedy) also played an instrumental role in developing the technology.