New research tests the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation in zero gravity

As part of a new study published in Nature Microgravity, a team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina tested the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) — a form of treatment used for numerous health conditions — in zero gravity.

For the study, the research team boarded a special plane known as G-Force One. When all aboard the plane became weightless for a span of 20 to 30 seconds after flying a series of arcs, the TMS test was immediately conducted on participants.

“This study was really a one-shot deal. The flight was prebooked. Everything was set. We had a fixed start date, a fixed time period to do the experiment and everything had to go perfectly – and everything hinged on creating this thing that didn’t exist,” according to the co-authors.

All of the passengers within the craft were actively part of the research team, with the average age of the participants estimated to be in the 30s.

Based on their findings, the research team concluded the following, as written in a news release, “less electromagnetism was needed in zero gravity than on Earth to induce a thumb twitch. That suggests neurophysical changes happening in the brain, but there are several possible explanations, ranging from the brain physically shifting within the skull to neurons reacting more strongly to stimulation. There’s more to be learned.”

With the possibility of TMS being an efficient option in zero gravity, its use could be beneficial for future interplanetary missions, as TMS is shown to alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and even chronic pain.

“If there were a way to keep the brain in shape on the way to Mars, that would be very useful. That’s why NASA is interested in this technology. So that was what this study was really based on.”

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