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LU doctoral student to develop VR to help with balance disorders

Rocio Cavazos, doctoral candidate for Lamar University’s audiology program, will be working as an audiology intern and project co-investigator with the European Space Agency. Cavazos is tasked with developing a virtual Rocio Cavazosreality model designed to aid those rehabilitating their balance after working in extreme conditions, such as in space.

“By studying the phenomenon of altitude, microgravity, extreme temperatures and radiation experienced in space, and as they relate to the physiology of the human body, we can potentially create a promising treatment for balance,” Cavazos said.

She will be working with the European Space Agency (ESA), specifically ESA research director Dr. Victor DeMaria-Pesce, whose work focuses on human neuropsychology and physiology of the organism in extreme environments.

“During a conference at 2019 NASA Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop in Galveston,” Cavazos said. “I had the opportunity to present my posters, ‘Neurophysiology of the Vestibular System in Space and Virtual Reality: A Tool For Balance Training After Spaceflight.’ Dr. DeMaria, together with his team, approached us and proposed the opportunity to collaborate in this project with their institution.”

Cavazos is receiving funding through a grant from LU’s Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship and said she hopes through her research she can establish a future thesis for a doctoral degree, which will then lead to a professional career in audiology, specifically in balance.

“This grant will certainly strengthen my opportunity to take multiple invaluable learning, academic and professional experiences,” Cavazos said.

Cavazos said that during her time with the ESA, in both Paris and Cologne, she hopes to contribute to her field and establish the basis for a tool that will treat medical problems experienced by hundreds of individuals across the world.

Cavazos’ mentor is Lilian Felipe, a professor in LU’s Department of Speech and Hearing.

“Through this project, Dr. Felipe has helped me to set goals, develop contacts and identify valuable resources,” Cavazos said. “She always motivates me to do my best and is a great role model for my future objectives.”

Cavazos said that her time at Lamar University has prepared her for the challenges the project will pose.

“Lamar University, specifically the speech and hearing department, have opened doors to a world of professional and academic opportunities that I never imagined,” she said. “Since day one, I felt the commitment and support of my professors. They have provided knowledge and guidance as I pursue a career in the field of audiology.”