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New Studies Focus on Bone Loss, Infectious Disease Risk in Space Travel

Credit: NASA

New grants have been awarded, dedicated to detecting bone loss of astronauts in microgravity, as well as infectious disease risks for crews during long-term space travel.

NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) have announced that two Arizona State University research teams have been awarded NASA grants totaling $700,000 to support astronaut crew health and performance in space exploration missions.

“Bone loss is a serious problem faced by astronauts on long-duration space missions,” said Ariel Anbar, a professor in Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Beyond bed rest studies

Over the past six years Anbar and his team have developed a method for rapidly detecting changes in short-term net bone mineral balance (BMB) based on measurement of the natural calcium isotope composition of urine and blood.

“Our calcium isotope assay allows rapid, quantitative measures of the changes in bone mineral balance that lead to bone loss, providing key information that other techniques cannot provide,” Anbar said.

Grant funding will allow for the testing of the calcium isotope technique in spaceflight, beyond bed rest studies.

The assay can monitor changes in the urine of crew members aboard the International Space Station. Moreover, the research can be used in pursuing applications of the technique to the detection and treatment of bone diseases on Earth.

Looking for novel insights

The second ASU recipient was Jennifer Barrila, an assistant research scientist at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, the Biodesign Institute at ASU.

Barrila studies microbial pathogens and is working to provide novel insights into infectious disease risks for astronauts during spaceflight missions.

“In addition to enhancing our understanding of microbial risk to the crew during spaceflight, it is also exciting that this work holds the potential to enhance our general understanding of the host-pathogen interaction and may hold health benefits for the general public.”

Huge challenge

“The public’s interest in sending humans on long missions in space has never been higher,” says Anbar.

“Not only NASA, but many private entrepreneurs are aiming to send people to Mars and other deep space destinations. Keeping people healthy on such voyages is going to be a huge challenge,” Anbar said in an ASU press statement.

NASA and the NSBRI selected 23 research proposals in response to NASA Research Announcement NNJ12ZSA002N: “Research and Technology Development to Support Crew Health and Performance in Space Exploration Missions.”

For a complete list of grant recipients, go to:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/humanresearch/research_info/overview/20130429_crew_health_nra.html

By Leonard David via ASU’s Nikki Cassis

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