Inside astronauts' brains
A study launched by the University of Antwerp, in collaboration with the University of Liège, allows us to understand the physical changes that take place in astronauts' brains after a space flight.
Belgian researchers have been able to make important discoveries using a completely new imaging technique based on MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans of the brains of astronauts who have taken part in missions in recent years aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
As Professor Ben Jeurissen of the University of Antwerp explains, 'We have found early indications of neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to adapt to a changed environment or situation. This indicates that the brain is changing to allow adapted strategies for movement in a state of weightlessness.'
Specifically, researchers have observed several increases in brain tissue in areas of the brain involved in motor functions. This neuroplasticity was partially maintained seven months after returning to Earth, which implies lasting adaptability.
For Professor Floris Wuyts, the other Antwerp supervisor of the study, these discoveries are very useful for future long-term missions such as those to Mars.