By Brianna Hoge and Satina Richardson

Jessica Jasien, Ph.D., a summer graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, is setting her sights high after graduation.

She has accepted a position as a senior vision scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Cardiovascular and Vision Laboratory at Johnson Space Center.

In this position, Jasien will use the knowledge and experience gained through her time at UAB and in the laboratory of J. Crawford Downs, Ph.D., to research spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome.  

“SANS is thought to result from an imbalance of intracranial and intraocular pressure that is caused by the absence of gravity,” said Downs, who is a professor in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “These cephalad fluid shifts are exactly what Jessica worked on in my laboratory at UAB. 

“It’s a perfect fit for the experiments NASA is doing in astronauts and healthy volunteers on Earth to understand the causes of SANS.” 

The idea of working for NASA is not new to Jasien. After obtaining her master’s degree, her first research position allowed her the opportunity to travel to Johnson Space Center. During those visits, she came to realize that it would be an exciting place to conduct research.  

“I am very fortunate that Dr. Downs and UAB have helped me make the dream of conducting research at NASA a reality,” Jasien said.

Lawrence Sincich, PhD and associate professor, is the interim director of the Vision Science Graduate Program in the School of Optometry. 

“The School of Optometry’s newly minted Dr. Jessica Jasien is a great example of what a PhD can do for one’s career," he said. "She entered UAB with a master's in biomedical engineering and had considerable experience working on clinical studies with glaucoma patients in New York."

Since current treatments for glaucoma merely slow disease progression, Dr. Jasien wanted to learn more about what caused it. That brought her into basic research. As a graduate student in Dr. Crawford Downs’s lab, she was able to complete detailed mechanistic studies on a primate model of the disease. With that experience in hand, she now joins NASA to help understand why astronauts develop analogous symptoms. Eventually, what is learned in space will help to develop better future treatments for patients back on earth.”