Tue. May 17th, 2022

Research using the gravity environment (microgravity) at the International Space Station and other facilities that provide similar conditions for space can also potentially benefit people suffering from conditions such as muscle degeneration or back pain.

It is well known that the effects of space travel take a heavy toll on astronauts’ bodies, while their weight-bearing bones in microgravity lose, on average, 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the mineral density per second. Month.

To counteract this, they currently need to exercise for two and a half hours every day, take supplements and consume high-protein proteins to maintain muscle mass while there is room for tin. Without these interventions, astronauts could experience up to 20% loss of muscle mass on spaceflights lasting between 5 and 11 days.

The five new projects, which are to receive a share of £ 440,000 in UK Space Agency funding, will support much longer space missions needed to explore the Moon and beyond. They include an initiative by Manchester Metropolitan University to study the long-term effects of isolation on physical and psychological health and a research project by Northumbria University to investigate the relationship between microgravity and back health.

Science Minister George Freeman said:

Our space science is about groundbreaking life sciences as well as rockets and satellites: the UK is at the heart of the latest biomedical surveillance and offers enormous potential insights into human health. For example, the way astronauts’ vision deteriorates in space and then is repaired back on Earth can provide powerful insights to help scientists at labs like Moorfields understand eye health and potential new treatments.

This research can enable astronauts to safely embark on longer and more challenging missions for the benefit of us all.

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake said:

It is exciting to see this groundbreaking research take place here in the UK.

We can learn so much about the human body from space flight, especially the aging process. This research could enable astronauts to perform longer missions and explore further into space, while benefiting everyone on Earth.

Credit: Nick Caplan

The government recently launched its National Space Strategy, outlining its long-term plans to grow the UK space sector and make the UK a scientific and technological superpower, including building on production and technology capacity, attracting investment and working internationally.

This announcement comes during World Space Week, which runs from October 4-10. The annual event, led by the United Nations, celebrates the contribution of science and technology to improving life on Earth. This year’s theme is Women in Space.

Through Britain’s membership of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) exploration program, British scientists have access to unique facilities, including parabolic flights that reproduce gravity-free conditions in an airplane and fall towers that produce a controlled period of weightlessness.

Elodie Viau, Head of ESA’s ECSAT site at the Harwell Space Cluster in Oxfordshire, said:

As we wake up further into space, we are proud to see the UK’s ESA membership help UK researchers conduct groundbreaking research to support this effort.

These projects aim to deliver a range of human health benefits that can be applied to both ESA astronauts and humans on Earth.

In March this year, ESA launched its first run for new astronauts in 11 years, with more than 22,000 people applying, including nearly 2,000 from the UK. ESA is looking for up to six astronauts and up to 20 reservists, and the successful applicants will be announced next year.

The British space agency has also provided £ 16,000 in funding to Kew Gardens to investigate how seeds can be stored and transported in space to support human exploration to Mars and beyond. The agency supports the preparation and testing of 24 seed species before flying to the International Space Station in a few years.

The projects in detail

Northumbria University

Northumbria University, Newcastle, will study how spinal cord health is affected by spending six months in microgravity on the International Space Station, while exploring effective ways to improve post-flight astronaut reconstruction for astronauts.

The research team will also investigate the effectiveness of artificial gravity, supplemented by resistive vibration exercise, to prevent loss of spinal cord health using long-term bed rest to simulate the effects of microgravity. The results of this study will benefit the health and recovery of astronauts traveling to the Moon and Mars.

University of Liverpool

Astronauts quickly lose skeletal muscle when exposed to microgravity. There is some evidence that this muscle loss is an accelerated form of the slow loss that occurs as we all age and contributes to fragility, weakness, and lack of independence in the elderly. The University of Liverpool will conduct a preliminary ground-based study to see if the chemical hydrogen peroxide produced in the muscle by organelles called mitochondria is a mediator of muscle aging and muscle loss after exposure to microgravity.

Manchester Metropolitan University

Manchester Metropolitan University will investigate the effects of prolonged isolation. With a focus on SIRIUS confinement studies, a unique, ground-based multi-compartment facility that provides isolation, confinement and remote conditions in investigation scenarios. The team will examine the psychological stress, team function, performance and health caused by prolonged isolation.

University of Birmingham

Space-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS) is a condition that can have serious consequences for the astronaut’s health. The syndrome can cause various side effects from vision loss due to changes in the optic nerve, headaches as well as acute and chronic changes in the brain. This project will investigate methods of early diagnosis and monitoring for the establishment of a drug treatment using GLP-1 receptor agonists to alleviate SANS and the associated long-term consequences.

University of Birmingham

When astronauts return to Earth, they have an increased risk of cervical intervertebral disc (IVD) herniation, which can cause significant pain, weakness, and numbness. The University of Birmingham will investigate the causes that contribute to this increased risk of cervical cancer IVD using state-of-the-art methods for measuring muscle behavior. Such knowledge will form the basis of future interventions aimed at reducing such risk.

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