The Lab for Equilibrium Investigations and Aerospace (LEIA), previously known as AUREA, brings together the academic platform of the University of Antwerp and the clinical platform of the European Institute for Otorhinolaryngology (ORL) and Head-and-Neck Surgery (HNS) at the Sint-Augustinus Hospital in Antwerp. LEIA aims to perform pioneering research in the domains of the vestibular system and of spaceflight.

LEIA began with performing research on the use of various tests to evaluate the function of the vestibular organ for the purpose of routine clinical testing. As a logical next step, different research projects were initiated to increase our understanding of certain vestibular-related diseases and conditions. Currently, LEIA’s research focus entails (i) developing a treatment option for Mal de Débarquement Syndrome (MdDS) as one of the few centres in the world, (ii) investigating the effect of a otolith-vestibular implant to treat patients with severe bilateral vestibular function loss, (iii) using state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to diagnose Ménière’s Disease, (iv) to test the outcome of the Balance Belt in chronic dizzy patients, and more.

The second domain of research entails the investigation of the effects of spaceflight on the vestibular system and on the brain. Because the vestibular organ fails to detect gravity-dependent head movements in a weightless environment, downstream functions of the vestibular system, such as gaze stabilisation, balance, orientation and navigation, are affected in this condition. LEIA’s research activities in the field of spaceflight include (i) the investigation of the effects of pharmaceutical treatments for (space) motion sickness on the vestibular organ, (ii) testing the vestibular organ function before and after long-duration spaceflight by means of centrifugation, currently in already 71% of the cosmonauts who have flown to the ISS, and (iii) running the first prospective MRI study in cosmonauts and astronauts to uncover various structural and functional changes to the brain in response to space missions.

With these research endeavours, LEIA aims to resolve various forms of dizziness and imbalance in patients and to address biomedical challenges for astronauts engaging in human space exploration missions.