Credit: Getty Images: Eugen Wais/EyeEm
Flying in space can be a bit like growing old, because without
exercise and proper nutrition astronauts on weeks- or months-long
missions would come back to Earth with difficulties staying
balanced, with weaker bones and muscles, and with other health
problems that are usually confined to seniors or those with
To help better understand these effects, a new investigation on the
International Space Station (ISS) will study aging and how the age
of mice living in microgravity affects the progression of symptoms
that mimic some human diseases. Rodent research in space has been
performed many times on the space shuttle and more recently on the
ISS to better understand the effects of microgravity on astronaut
health. The mice in this experiment will stay in space for over 30
days to provide a better idea how spaceflight effects on their
health can inform us about human health on Earth.
This is the ninth Rodent Research mission launched to the ISS since
2014. Each mission has specific science goals,and studied different
responses of the mice to spaceflight or therapeutic drugs (or
sometimes, both at the same time). While it is possible to make
some comparisons between spaceflights, it can be a challenge when
mice of different genetic types or genetic backgrounds fly on
This situation makes it difficult to predict how the genetic
background of a particular type of mouse may influence the effects
of microgravity in other genetic backgrounds of mice. (Similar
things happens with humans; certain genes predispose people to
certain types of diseases, such as cancer.) So Rodent Research-8
aims to examine genetic influences more closely.
“This mission is different from previous missions as it is the
first reference mission where young and old mice of the same
genetic strain are flown together during the same mission,” said
co-investigator Gretchen Kusek, the associate director of
scientific services at private company Taconic Biosciences, in an
e-mail to Seeker.
The researchers are from several institutions and will run their
own investigations to test how spaceflight and the aging process
affect certain organ systems in mammals, especially those effects
that might be comparable to human diseases such as osteoporosis,
muscle wasting and immune dysfunction, said principal investigator
Michael Roberts, deputy chief scientist at the U.S. National
Laboratory (which is also sponsoring the investigation).
“These research questions will be addressed by observing the
activity levels of the younger and older mice and different
measures of activity and function in their genes and major organ
systems,” he said in an e-mail to Seeker.
While mice and rats are not human subjects, Roberts says they are
good models for probing the effects of spaceflight on mammalian
systems – such as cardiovascular or reproductive systems – that
humans share. Rodents are also prone to many human-type diseases,
including diabetes, osteoporosis and even cancer. Another advantage
of rodents is they have shorter lifespans and breed more quickly
than humans, allowing researchers to quickly see the effects of
aging in a single generation exposed to microgravity for a few
“Our mission at the ISS National Lab is to enable research in space
that benefits Earth. The NASA Human Research Program has the
mission to identify and mitigate risks to astronauts. This
experiment directly addresses both missions by seeking to improve
our understanding of the effects of spaceflight on human physiology
using an animal model, to reveal how these effects may be
exacerbated or attenuated by age and how faithfully these molecular
and physiological changes mimic disease,” Roberts said.
“The data collected will be used to inform those of us on Earth
about new, early-stage biomarkers of disease. For those working in
space, these biomarkers will be used to inform physicians and
engineers about effectiveness of current and planned
countermeasures to combat physiological changes associated with
extended spaceflight,” he added.
Waiting for results will still take a while, because analyses on
the data take at least a year or more to perform after the mice and
associated biospecimens (such as blood samples) return to Earth.
It’s not as though mice can easily catch a ride home; they have to
wait for a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to come to the station, which
only happens a few times a year at best.
Future rodent missions may focus on the effects of spaceflight on
males and females, and how their *** alters disease onset and
progression, Roberts said.
You can read more about the experiment
at this NASA web page.
Source: FS – All – Science – News 2
Space is tough on an astronaut's bones, muscles, blood flow and much more.