Have you ever wondered if you have something in common with an astronaut? It turns out there are 206 things — your bones. It’s these parts of our bodies that are the focus of a research study into bone loss in astronauts, and the important question of whether bone can be salvaged after returning to Earth.
The TBone study was initiated in 2015 by Dr. Steven Boyd, PhD, director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health and professor at the Cumming School of Medicine. The study followed 17 astronauts before and after spaceflight over the past seven years to understand if bone recovers after “long-duration” spaceflight. The findings are published in Scientific reportsand while it may not seem important to you here on Earth, research is important to better understand bone health in general.
“Bone loss happens in humans – as we age, get injured, or in any scenario where we can’t move the body, we lose bone,” says Dr. Leigh Gabel, PhD, Professor assistant in kinesiology and senior author of the study.
“Understanding what happens to astronauts and how they recover is incredibly rare. This allows us to examine the processes taking place in the body in such a short time. We would have to follow someone for decades on Earth to see the same amount of bone loss. “, says Gabel.
The researchers traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to scan astronauts’ wrists and ankles before they departed for space, upon their return to Earth, and then at six and 12 months.
“We found that weight-bearing bones only partially recovered in most astronauts a year after spaceflight,” she says. “This suggests that permanent bone loss from spaceflight is about the same as a decade of age-related bone loss on Earth. »
This loss occurs because bones that would normally bear weight on Earth, like your legs, don’t have to bear weight in microgravity – you just float.
“We’ve seen astronauts struggling to walk due to weakness and lack of balance after returning from spaceflight, others happily riding their bikes around the Johnson Space Center campus to meet us for a study visit. There’s a wide variety of responses among astronauts upon their return to Earth, Boyd said.
Former UCalgary Chancellor and Astronaut, Dr. Robert Thirsk, BSc (Eng)’76, Hon. LLD’09, MD knows firsthand how bizarre returning to Earth can be. “Just as the body must adapt to spaceflight at the start of a mission, it must also readapt to Earth’s gravity field at the end,” Thirsk explains. “The fatigue, dizziness and imbalance were immediate challenges for me upon my return. Bones and muscles take the longest to recover after spaceflight. But a day after landing, I felt comfortable again as an Earthling. »
Some astronauts who flew shorter missions, less than six months, recovered lower body bone strength and density, compared to those who flew for longer durations.
Access to astronauts is rare – the study team includes two members of the European Space Agency (ESA), Dr Anna-Maria Liphardt, PhD, and Martina Heer, PhD, as well as two from NASA, the Dr. Scott Smith, PhD, and Dr. Jean Sibonga, PhD. The study was funded by the Canadian Space Agency and conducted in partnership with ESA, NASA and astronauts from North America, Europe and Asia.
As future space missions explore travel to more distant locations, the next iteration of the study will explore the effects of even longer trips, to support astronauts who may one day travel beyond the International Space Station.
As Thirsk puts it, “Astronauts will venture into deep space this decade, and in the centuries to come, humanity will populate other star systems. Now let’s push the boundaries of space exploration to make this vision possible. »
Dr. Leigh Gabel, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, a Fellow of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health at the Cumming School of Medicine, and a Fellow of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Researcher Institute.
Dr. Steven Boyd, Ph.D., is a Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) Professor in the Department of Radiology and holds a joint appointment with the Schulich School of Engineering and the Faculty of Kinesiology. He is Director of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health at MSC, and holder of the Bob and Nola Rintoul Chair in Bone and Joint Research, as well as the McCaig Chair in Bone and Joint Health. .
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Floating in space can be fun, but study shows it’s tough on Earth bodies – Astronomy & Astrophysics News
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