To the Moon – Taking TMS to Zero Gravity and Beyond


Bashar Badran, PhD

The Brain Stimulation Lab of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), directed by Dr. Mark George, has some big news to announce. Recently, a team of researchers led by Dr. Bashar  Badran and Dr. Donna R. Roberts conducted a TMS experiment in a zero-gravity environment. This was a highly technical and ambitious project funded by NASA to investigate whether motor cortex excitability changes in zero gravity compared to on earth. WOW!


(Above) TMS in Zero Gravity Team (left to right): Colleen Hanlon PhD, Will DeVries MS, Lisa McTeague PhD, Claire Cox, Jeffrey Borckardt PhD, Donna Roberts MD, Bashar Badran PhD, Mark George MD, Kevin Caulfield, Suzanne Kerns MD


Building TMS Space Helmets


This project involved first making custom TMS helmets for all participants (right). These helmets, created in the Neuro-X lab by Dr. Badran with the help of neuroscience PhD student Kevin Caulfield, allow for a TMS coil to snap into place directly over the motor hotspot and prevent the coil from floating away due to reduced gravity. They facilitate the reliable collection of motor threshold data and administration of closed-loop TMS in a microgravity environment. Helmet validity data was recently accepted in Brain Stimulation (Badran, Caulfield et al 2020).

Creating a Mobile TMS Lab in a Modified Boeing 727 Jet


In order to simulate zero gravity, researchers went on a parabolic flight. The flight pattern consists of flying 45° ascending and descending maneuvers in a 100-mile dedicated airspace over the Gulf of Mexico (pictured above). At the peak of each transition, between ascent and decent, fliers experience approximately 25 seconds of weightlessness. During the transition from descent to ascent, fliers experience approximately 40 seconds of hyper-gravity (up to 2G).


The research team created a mobile TMS lab that straps to the floor of the airplane and administers automated, closed-loop TMS during the 25 second microgravity periods. Pictured (left) is the in-flight setup which consisted of (from left to right) a computer operator (Bashar Badran, PhD), TMS participant (Suzanne Kerns, MD), and TMS administrator (Mark George, MD). The TMS coil snaps into the helmets worn by all fliers and resting motor thresholds were collected via EMG electrodes.  Curious about what these researchers found? A forthcoming manuscript will reveal the exciting findings discovered in this study.

Financial support:

This work is supported by a grant award to PI Donna Roberts from the Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) through NASA NNX16AO69A, National Center of Neuromodulation for Rehabilitation (NC NM4R) (5P2CHD086844-03), and the COBRE Brain Stimulation Core (5P20GM109040-04).

About the MUSC Brain Stimulation Lab:

The Brain Stimulation Lab (BSL) within the Department of Psychiatry was started by Dr. Mark George 20 years ago. Since its inception, the BSL has been at the forefront of using brain stimulation techniques to treat and study neuropsychiatric disorders. Located on the 5th floor of the MUSC Institute of Psychiatry, the BSL has one of the most extensive collections of brain stimulation technologies in the world. The mission of the division is to use advanced brain imaging methods to develop hypotheses about regional brain dysfunction in neuropsychiatric diseases and then to use the ever-expanding toolkit of brain stimulation methods to test whether these brain-behavior theories are correct. Where appropriate, we then perform translational clinical trials testing whether a particular form of brain stimulation may be a therapy for a specific disorder.

About the MUSC Neuro-X Lab:

The Neuro-X Lab, directed by Dr. Bashar Badran is a multidisciplinary neural engineering and innovation laboratory housed within the Brain Stimulation Division at MUSC. Neuro-X fosters an environment of neurotechnology and innovation to begin addressing complex medical and neuropsychiatric disorders. In a short period of time, Neuro-X has developed noninvasive vagus nerve stimulation, as well as several emerging medical devices such as the Motor Activated Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation (MAAVNS) for stroke rehabilitation, the SmartStim baby bottle to improve neonatal feeding, and concurrent taVNS/fMRI to quantify brain changes in response to stimulation.