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So far we've got interesting results from three astronauts. It seems that there is a strong production of collagen; so suddenly these astronauts have more collagen. It means there is some sort of anti-ageing effect, at least in the dermis - the lower part of the skin. And we found that the epidermis, in particular the part of the living cells, that this epidermis is shrinking, so the skin gets thinner, so far we have no explanation yet, and we are waiting for the other astronauts to figure out what's going on and maybe to try to figure out how we can protect, how we can help so that this epidermis is not shrinking.
We use femtosecond laser pulses. We scan the skin and we get signals from the skin, particularly fluorescence, as well as another signal called second harmonic generation. So with these two signals we can build up images and get a precise look into the skin with a high resolution. The resolution is a factor of one thousand (times) better than ultrasound. So now you get the information without taking biopsies; normally you slice them, you stain them, and then a pathologist would look through these sections. Now you can get this information in seconds, labor free and with this fantastic resolution.
NASA and ESA - the European Space Agency - came to us and asked, 'is it possible to also look in the skin of astronauts? Because we want to know if there's any aging process going on or what kind of modifications happened to astronauts as they work for six months out in space.' Because many astronauts complain about skin problems.
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