Transcript: Space4U podcast, Dorit Donoviel

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello, welcome to the Space4U Podcast. I’m Zakary Watson with Space Foundation. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the people who make today’s space exploration and global space ecosystem possible. Joining us today is Dr. Dorit Donoviel, Director of Translational Research Institute for Space Health, also known as TRISH.

She is the Director of the Biomedical Innovation Laboratory and Associate Professor of Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Donoviel’s work revolves around research and developing strategies aimed at reducing the health and safety risks for astronauts in long duration, human exploration, space missions, and helping all humans thrive in deep space.

Dr. Donoviel has received numerous awards for her work, including NASA’s group achievement award for work as a member of the executive steering committee for the impact of sex and gender on adaptation to space, a collection of six scientific articles published in the journal of women’s health. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Donoviel.

It is wonderful to have you on the Space4U Podcast. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me. Word on the street is that you are an avid Star Trek memorabilia collect. How old were you when you began your collection? Oh my gosh. It’s been a while. I have a phaser. I have a communicator and I have a bunch of stuff from, uh, Leonard Nimoy, who, who did a whole bunch of, you know, extra stuff to make money throughout his career.

Uh, but yeah, I’ve been doing that for quite a while. I think I was probably 10 years old when I started watching it kind of dates me. It was amazing. Um, you know, that show is really, really ahead of its time in terms of the diversity and the kinds of things that they dealt with. What would you say is the most notable about your collection?

Probably the, you know, the communicator because you look at it and it looks so much like the flip phones, right? Like in the sixties, somebody conceived of that. And I actually owned a flip phone that looked just like the communicators. So, to me, that was like, we have to look at sci-fi for the next great ideas.

It’s by letting ourselves have the freedom to imagine that we really come up with the new innovations for our life here, too. Yes. Open your mind to taking inspiration from many different avenues. Absolutely. Did you start your career in the space ecosystem? Nope. It was really interesting because nobody thinks they’re going to work in the space world.

I mean, there, there are a handful of people. I mean, now in my job, I can’t tell you how many people reach out to me from all over the world who want to get engaged with space. And, and I totally feel for those individuals because there is a passion that needs to be fulfilled. They need to connect and at most to try to connect them and plug them in wherever I can, but sometimes I just don’t have a job for them.

I just don’t have a way for them to contribute. So, I invite them to just participate in terms of listening to some of the things that we do, including podcasts like this, or workshops or connect them to societies and conferences, et cetera. That’s the best I can do for people because we’re a really small virtual Institute.

I don’t have a job to give them. But my journey really was all about biology. I find the human body and living things so fascinating. We are absolutely incredible innovations ourselves. I mean, just think about your body and how it is optimized to perform so well in whatever environment you put it. Right.

So, yeah, so, so the journey for me was through biology and then, you know how these things happen. You just kind of like circuitous slowly arrive at an opportunity, and then an opportunity presented itself to do space biomedical research. And I’m like, what is that? Even a thing. And in fact, I remember my family members.

Space medicine, like, is that real? Did you make that up? I’m like, no, no. It’s a real thing. So, yeah. So that’s how you landed at TRISH was through your, your biology. Yeah. So TRISH has only been in existence since, uh, 2016, October 1st, which is the fiscal year. Fiscal year starts for October one through September 30th.

So I’ve been director of TRISH for the last five years. So was another director before me, but TRISH is new. We’re kind of a new Institute where it’s here now. I guess they were not new anymore. We we’ve lost that new Institute smell maybe, but no, I was with, uh, Baylor College of Medicine with the previous Institute called the National Space, Biomedical Research Institute, which was the predecessor to this one.

Um, so, uh, but also at Baylor. Yeah. So you must take risk to do this type of work. And do you consider yourself a risktaker. Absolutely. I try to disrupt everything. I sometimes enjoy disrupting just for the sake of disrupting. Um, I actually have the perfect personality for this job because I do tend to get bored when things remain the same.

I know that there’s comfort in, in similarity. I have to say with the exception of my entertainment. I guess I have so much disruption in my work and my life that when I, when I go for entertainment, I always want like the same things, like some familiar with the entertainment and perhaps people who are in jobs that are not.

So risk-taking take more risk taking in their entertainment choices. I don’t know. That’s just a hypothesis I have right now. No, I think that’s great. What, as far as entertainment goes, so what are you talking about? Movies, books. Yeah. You know, you know how you kind of go back to the favorites. Like I love British shows, British murder mysteries.

Uh, I’ve probably watched Pride and Prejudice about 3042 times. Uh, it’s just a perfect production and I just always know what I’m going to get. So when it comes, when it comes to entertainment, I like that. But when it comes to my work, I have to tell you, once we just completed the Inspiration for research compliment the first commercial space flight, all private individuals, that for the first time they actually executed real solid scientifically vetted important research for NASA for us.

And it was a huge undertaking. And as soon as that was over, I’m like, okay, what’s next? And my team is like, what? Let us take a breath. We’re like, we’re moving on. We’re doing the next big thing on two more disruption. Yes, exactly. I’m glad that you brought up the Inspiration4 mission because I wanted to ask you about the civilian crew that went to orbit on the space.

And there was TRISH sponsored research that was conducted as part of TRISH’s expand program. Correct? Is this new? Brand new. Yeah. So, I mean, we’ve all dreamed of have the capability of doing research on more people than just government agency astronauts. They are fabulous well-trained individuals, but they’re highly, highly well extended.

They have a lot on their plate. They do sign up for a lot of research studies, but. Aren’t that many going to space now, as missions get longer and longer with the shuttle program, you know, we had, we had short duration missions and shuttle would go up and you’d have three or four missions a year and you’d have a crew of six.

Plus the, you know, two to three to four they’re on space station. So you had a lot more numbers, but with the shuttle retiring, we had so few individuals going up every year. When you look at the whole history of human space flight, we’ve been in space for 60 years. You go back to the sixties. We’ve been in space for 60 years, roughly 530 something odd people have been the space.

Um, that’s like 10 a year. And as a biologist, as a person who studies, particularly humans, you need more than that. You need, you need a lot more people and you need diversity in your sample. All kinds of different people. Cause guess what? We don’t react in the same way to this spaceflight environment.

We’re very unique in how we respond to things. So, you know, so now it’s so exciting because this new capability opened up. And so we had to establish something that would allow us to execute really solid science. And when I say that, I mean, scientifically vetted. It’s been through review panels. It’s been through, you know, we got proposals.

We carefully considered what was feasible, what the crew can do. What makes sense to answer some fundamental questions that are relevant for NASA’s missions, going to the moon. What’s important. What can we do? What can space X safely take into the dragon capsule? That’s not going to like create a spark and you know, or off gas something or cause a problem.

All of those parameters had to be taken into consideration and all of the data had to be standardized in such a way that we can actually use it. We can put it in this database that we initiated and, in the future, when we want to start to look at, okay, what does it look like when women who are on birth control go to space and they are.

You know, fertile and fertility age. So they’re not like in their sixties or late fifties, what does that look like in terms of their blood clot risk? Because it is a real concern. We saw it in a female astronauts, so we can start to ask these questions in the future. When we have a lot more regular people going to space, working in space, living in space.

Wow. That was what I was going to ask. Where is the data going? So it sounds like you TRISH developed a centralized database. Yes. Okay. And that, that will include private space flight participants and well, as well as astronauts. Well, we haven’t yet discussed having astronaut data in there because. Can do astronaut research, but right now it’s still the purview of NASA to take the research from astronauts.

But here’s what we can do with the database. We can take internationals. So we’re actually now not just looking at us participants, but we’re in discussions with private space, like companies who have international passengers participants who are going to space and NASA cannot take international research and medical data.

I, I think they could take Canadian. I want to say they can take Canadian. I’m not sure about their database capability, but we’ve basically created a streamlined, easily executed capability to take non. Astronaut and even non us participants, everybody can put their data in. And now we’re even considering looking at retired astronauts, whether they would be willing to give us some of their samples and access to some of their data as well.

That’s really what data was collected with the inspiration for mission. So we looked at all of those parameters that I’ve mentioned what is feasible, what is doesn’t require a lot of training. What is a miniaturized capability, a hardware. SpaceX was okay to fly flying hardware, like a device versus a software or something like that is a big deal because it, it actually costs money to lift it off the ground.

Right. More fuel to get an extra gram or so on. There’s like, I don’t know what the statistic is. I should know this at the top of my head, but it’s a lot of money. To take even a little bit off the ground. And then we also looked at what was going to be changing over a short duration flights for inspiration for it was a three-day orbital flight.

And so we’re not talking months, we’re not talking weeks, even so. Because it’s a short duration flight. We’re not going to be so interested in looking at things that will take a longer time to really change, for example, bone or muscle. You know, when you, when you, when you go for longer periods of time, that’s when you start to see the changes in those tissues.

But what does change right away is. Blood flow distribution of fluids. What does change immediately is balance? What does change immediately is perhaps circadian rhythm when you are going around the earth so many times. So they were actually at a higher orbit than the ISS. And I think. They were going around the earth 15 times a day, as opposed to the ISS, that was, um, goes around the, or 16 times a day, which I find interesting bit of trivia.

So we wanted to look at cognitive performance. So the kind of data that we pulled was from the Apple watch. So it really didn’t have to be an Apple watch. It was just, it could have been any device that collected physiological parameters. So heart rate, activity levels, which can actually tell you, uh, the sleep and the wake cycles based on how you map out the activity.

So to see if they’re sleeping, normally they have a normal circadian rhythm or not breathing rate noise levels in the, in the cabin, we’re getting also measurements to see if that affected their circadian rhythms. We’re getting measurements of cognitive performance. So this is a test, a psychological test that you do on a, on an iPad.

And it basically makes you go through like 10 different tests and it looks at your executive functions. Your reaction time, that’s like your neurological status. What we call fitness for duty, the blood distribution. We used a miniaturized ultrasound device. And they did a, an analysis of the blood flow in, in the veins of the neck, because what we’re seeing in space flight is that the lack of gravity is causing a lot of fluid shifts to move upwards towards the head.

And that could be causing kind of a slowdown or a backup of the drainage from the head, which could be causing some issues with their vision and their brain. So we’ve seen some of this, uh, new brain syndrome that NASA is quite concerned about. So they did some of those studies. So ultrasound day, And then for balance, we were looking at before flight and after flight.

And then in flight, we are collecting blood spots and also a blood device that looks at inflammation markers, because we really believe that going into space accelerates all kinds of changes that are similar to aging here on earth, but in an accelerated state. So inflammation is one of the things that we think is, is changing.

You mentioned ultrasound. So I’ve heard about butterfly IQ. How can the work that is butterfly IQ, um, help people on. Right. So butterfly queues completely game changing. Their mission really was to democratize healthcare. And I love that because the democratization of healthcare, doesn’t just extend to places in the world that don’t have access to.

Massive medical centers or trained ultra sonographers who know, know how to use an ultrasound, but now it extends to space. So we can even take it to our lunar colonies or Mars colonies or anywhere where humanity goes. You need to take medicine with humans, right? So medicine must follow humans wherever they go.

So the kinds of things that were done were. The things that we could do in space. Yeah. We can demonstrate that a device like that can be used by a non-expert user, in a confined space and to get really good readouts. Yeah. You could do that in space or you could do it anywhere on earth as well. That’s you know, it doesn’t, you don’t have to go to space to do that.

Interesting about space. And what’s unique about space is that many of the things that we understand about human physiology, we really don’t understand because when you take out gravity, for example, and now all of a sudden your blood flow changes. Or, you know, how your vessels operate and contract or how you regulate pressures or fluids or volumes in the body.

All of that. We thought we understood. But then when we go into space, that kind of changes the paradigm changes and it forces us to kind of really understand the human body and its complexities better. I always kind of think of the analogy. You don’t really understand something until you turn it upside down and try to figure it out, you know, like, so it’s like you have to take it apart to really understand something.

And that’s the way I sort of used space flight. The human body is put under a condition where now we get to see all kinds of things that our bodies could do that we didn’t even realize they could do here on earth. Right. Great. You’ve mentioned this. You’ve touched on this. There are so many health issues that can arise in every day.

Um, and we need to be prepared for those. In, in space from a simple cold virus to something complex, like type one diabetes. What are the biggest challenges? TRISH is identifying in space health, right? So the big ones are this condition that I alluded to the neurological and the blood flow and the fluid shifting there’s a neurological condition called spaceflight associated neural ocular syndrome and sands for short.

Um, and it’s the top risk to human health in low earth orbit. And what I mean by low earth orbit, it means within the protection of our atmosphere. So the atmosphere extends quite a ways. And the ISS today and around orbit around the earth, it’s still protected from the space radiation environment. So once you leave the vicinity of earth, then the radiation becomes a top risk.

Because at that point you’re exposing the human body and we know that the human body is going to undergo damage from the space radiation. We simply cannot. Completely shield the individual, except for burrowing underground, you know, 17 feet of lunar regolith, or, you know, Mars, regolith, whatever it is you have to go under in order to protect us completely from the galactic cosmic rays that humans will be experiencing.

So people have been thinking about shielding and magnetic shielding and other, such things, but it is. Realistically, it is not feasible. We know that the human body will be bombarded with radiation that can increase your cancer risk over time. We know that all the systems in the body will be affected by radiation and the one that we’re probably not.

Worried about is the brain, because it is so active and you need to be very sharp to stay safe and space. And so if there is cognitive decline and that’s why we were doing the cognitive test on the eye for, not that we thought they would get anything in space, but it was really, you know, it’s a short, short flight.

It was still within protection, but yeah, so, so radiation will be a top risk outside of low earth orbit and then the condition. Space flight associated neuro ocular syndrome. So that is a result of the lack of gravity pushing the fluids up towards the head. And we think that there’s an elevation in pressure on the head pressure on the brain and also affecting the back of the eye because it’s all connected the eyes and the brain.

So we actually do worry about the vision of the astronauts and we do worry about their brain function. Those would be my top two risks. And then of course, just the extreme isolation on a Mars mission when you move further away from earth, and you’re thinking about a Mars mission, the extreme isolation brings up issues with behavior.

That’s the other major one. This is really embarrassing, but I’m going to admit it. I just learned today that it takes seven months to travel to Mars. So with current capabilities, with current capabilities, yes, with current capabilities, it’s a slow boat tomorrow.

So I mean, I would are the health challenges different for the, let’s say the moon versus Mars. Absolutely. They are very different. So again, it has to do with duration. So the further away from earth you get the more challenges there are when we’re, when we go to the moon. If we have a medical emergency, it’s about a two day trip back, really two day trip back right now, if we have a medical emergency on ISS, we’re back within a few hours.

So the concern is, is that when they go to. And they have a major medical event, an injury it’s a couple of days. So people, people need to be able to take care of themselves. So the medical capabilities have to be ramped up food. No problem. We’re close enough to earth that we, you know, we can plan out the food situation is not going to be a problem.

You can still see the earth. It’s a shorter trip. We’re not going to be on the moon for two or three years, maybe it’s a few months. Mission, not a big deal. Communication delay is really minimal minute or two. We could still have fairly real-time communication. The concern on the lunar surface is radiation, as I mentioned before.

So we will have to go underground really to protect the astronauts if they’re there for long periods of time, but a 30 day mission exposed to face radiation. It is definitely going to be damaging to human tissue. I’m not too, too worried about a 30-day mission, radiation exposure. If you’re there on the moon surface for six months to a year.

Yeah. Now I’m going to worry about radiation. The other thing to worry about lunar exposure is the dust. So NASA has been looking at lunar dust is actually very corrosive to human lungs. If you breathe et cetera. And NASA has been looking at the possibility of having the space suits, never come inside the craft, inside the habitat.

So leaving them on the outside and you kind of crawl into the suit from the habit. Hm. So you never kind of bring it in. It’s almost like you always leave it on the outside. So lunar dust is a concern, but I don’t think NES is too, too worried about that. If they solve it through the space suit issues. Now, when you moving further away though.

So I guess the other thing I should mention is the lunar gravity. Sixth of Earth’s gravity, so they will need to exercise, but we already know we could keep them healthy and zero G so once six J will probably be okay. Now when you’re moving away far away that seven month trip to Mars, you cannot return.

If you have an emergency. It’s you’re on your way. There’s no changing your mind. There’s no coming back to get to pick up that loaf of bread that you forgot, um, or the toilet paper. So, you know, that ain’t, that ain’t going to happen. So everything has to go with you and planning that kind of mission out for me, the number risk, even beyond the sands condition, beyond radiation on a Mars mission is.

Because we have yet to figure out how to stabilize food in such a way and give them enough variety of foods and enough nutrients that are stable in the space environment over that long period of time to actually keep those humans healthy and happy. That is still a major change. That’s not going to keep you up at night at all.

I am not volunteering to go to Mars. I love my food too much. Yes. What about space travel impacting mental health? I would think, you know, going to Mars that would, that would have to impact your mental home. Absolutely. So, so, so food actually is considered in mental health as well. Right? So, yes. I mean, think about that comfort foods, you know, you’re looking forward to that.

Cake. Yeah. You know, some variety, um, food is actually really important for mental health as well. Sure. And we use food and celebrations. We use food for all kinds of ways of coming together as a team as well. Right. So think about the team dynamics. There’s a concern around individual behavior health, but also.

The behavior of the team itself, the team dynamics is also a top concern on that long duration mission. And you’re absolutely right. I guess, after food, I would probably say behavior would be by number two. Yes. I’m worried about the sands condition. Yes. I’m worried about radiation. I think we could probably solve those.

I really do, but. Behavior, we haven’t figured out yet. I mean, most of people who will listen to the podcast will know, you know, during last eight, 10 months we’ve been socially isolated. I had a lot of people have gone bonkers. Um, and that wasn’t even an extreme isolation think about, you know, never being able to open a window, not never being able to go outside.

You can’t have your groceries delivered. You know, so the dog can’t walk your dogs, can’t go for a run outside. So, and you’re stuck in this one space with, you know, three other individuals and you can start to get annoyed with each other. So we are definitely worried about that. You keep mentioning SAND\S.

Can you tell me what, what SANS is? Yeah. So it’s SANS is Spaceflight Associated Neuro Ocular Syndrome, and it is a space specific syndrome, a medical condition that occurs in astronauts in quite a large number of them. I would say more than 70%. More than 70% exhibit some form of this condition, more so in men than women, but women have exhibited as well.

And what it is it’s a flattening of the back of the eye as seen through an ultrasound, going, you know, going back to the ultrasound, if you ultrasound the globe of the eye, you can do this. You can see the back of the eye is flattened instead of being round. And that shows up when you have goo much fluid inside the brain.

Now the brain is directly connected to the back of the eye. The eye is actually part of your, of your brain as part of your central nervous system. And what that means is that there’s so much fluid. It’s almost like you can imagine a balloon that gets filled up so much and it’s pressing up against the eye and it’s causing that back of the eye to get flat instead of around like, normally we’d be so.

Two balloons being next to each other. And one just gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it impinges on the other balloon in Mexico flat, that’s sort of like what’s going on here. And so we think it has something to do with not being able to drain cerebral spinal fluid CSF, which is the fluid that your brain is bathed in sufficiently.

And it may be due to the veins not properly. Draining the blood pressure changes. There’s all kinds of things that are going on. So the physicists are getting involved. The neurologist are getting involved. The ophthalmologists are getting involved. The cardio valid, the cardiovascular experts are getting involved because it has to do with vessels and pressures and fluids.

And it’s this lovely, lovely, interesting question. As to how the bio. Regulates fluids and pressures. And you see something similar to it with people who have increased pressure on the brain. So people with hydrocephalus, for example, who have too much fluid and people who have traumatic brain injury can sometimes accumulate fluid as well.

And then there’s conditions. Also, other than hydrocephalus, that also have increased pressure on the brain. So. It’s a very interesting, a new syndrome that’s not been seen before in medicine, but it’s similar to a few other conditions here on earth, but studying it in space has really led to some incredible insights as to how we regulate what’s normal in our head.

And what’s normal in our body. In the 2021 TRISH strategic plan. It mentions increasing the. And that sounds like a phrase that might be used quite a bit around Trish. Does this include partnering with other organizations besides NASA? Yes. So let me just give a little primer on what that means.

Increasing the end, right. And is in statistics and it’s not just in science, but in economics or business or psychology or anything that you do, even when you’re doing a census or a survey, or, you know, like how many people, uh, like creamer in their coffee or not. The N is the number of people that you serve.

Okay. So if, for example, I wanted to know whether people in Houston prefer creamer in their coffee or not the larger, the sample size. The more N I ask the better, my result will reflect reality. So if I only asked five people, I really can’t say that Houston likes Houston nights, like cream in their coffee.

But if I ask 5,000 people in Houston, I could probably get a better sense that Houston nights really do like cream in their coffee. So the larger, your N the more confidence you have, that what you’re looking at is not a fluke, but a real result. So we do this in biology, especially because there’s huge variability between individuals.

So when we look at somebody like who has a sands condition in space, and I can tell you 70% of astronauts have it. I know because we looked at enough. And that was really hard to do because there’s not that many people who have been to space. So the point is the more numbers I could add to my sample size, the more people, the more diversity in my sample size that I can look at the more.

I have confidence that what I’m telling you about what happens to the body in space is real and not just a freak phenomenon. So the problem is I mentioned is there’s been very few people have gone to space and the people that have gone to space have been pretty much all white men and, you know, they all tended to be of a certain.

You know, military background and it’s a certain demographic and that’s been what the agency needed, but as you’ve seen more recently, NASA has been phenomenal at recruiting people of color and more women. And you see it, not just in the astronaut Corps, but at leadership at NASA and in the research community, what we need to do.

And we know this, even from medicine here on her. There was a big problem with sleep medication when clinical trials testing the safety of drugs and the efficacy of drugs have always traditionally been done in just men, men, men, men. And so women are not men. They’re not smaller men. And so. Women process drugs differently.

Women have a different response to the drugs. And so there was actually a problem with a medication that was commonly used. You can look it up. I’m not going to name it here, not great problems, but people would take a sleep medication. And then women would have after effects in the morning after, and they would fall asleep at the wheel and get into car accidents.

And it was discovered that women are really sensitive to the drug and the studies that were done to put the drug on the market. Didn’t look at women. And so after all these women got into car accidents, then the FDA said, wait a minute. If we look at women, we need to decrease the dose by half. So now they made the company, you know, or the doctors when they’re prescribing the sleep medication, it’s, it’s a, it’s a prescription drug for sleep to reduce the dose for women.

That is the problem with not looking at enough. And enough diversity in your end. So, and then you see this across the board, different ethnicities as well. So knowing this from the medical field here on earth, and I actually worked at a pharmaceutical discovery company before I came to do this space work.

I know that whenever we develop radiation protectants or other types of mitigation strategies for humans going to space. I’ve got to look at all kinds of humans. And so the problem is if you just go with NASA astronauts, we have so few of them that we could study that by looking at more partnerships with commercial space flight companies and regular people, we can increase the end as well as the diversity and not just commercial space flight, but we’re also working with the Australian Antarctic division, which we think is the closest.

Model here on earth to what the extreme isolation will be like for a Mars mission in the sense that there are individuals who are isolating and the Australian Antarctic program for very long periods of time and extreme isolation, much, much more so than the U S Antarctic program. So we want to study them in terms of the behavioral aspects.

Is it too dangerous to send a pregnant woman to space? Wow. That is a great question. I would not want my daughter or my daughter-in-law when they’re pregnant to go to space an answer to my question, to your question too dangerous. I don’t know the answer to that. We don’t have enough information. So think about flying now, right?

I believe that the FAA doesn’t allow you to fly. If you’re past 36 weeks. Regular flying, going up into a pressurized cabin, right. It’s probably fine before 36 weeks. But now you’re thinking about G-forces changing now. You’re thinking about. The zero gravity certainly will have an effect on how your fluids are distributed.

So think about that. We already know the roads are distributed differently in space. When I had my first child, I had too much fluid in, in my amniotic SAC. And in fact, that was a bad thing. They made, they made me go into bed rest because I had contractions too early because I had too much fluid. So if there is a flu.

Imbalance during that pregnancy, it really could put the health of the mother and the child in jeopardy. Absolutely. Have you ever been absolutely blown away by any of your findings? Well, you know, blown away as a relative term. Remember I live on the edge all the time. The things that blow me away, it’s been a while since I’ve been blown away because I see so many cool things.

But when I tell my friends. Who are just regular old biologist. I spoke to my friend, who’s an immunologist the other day. And I told her some of the things we found and she said her mind was blown away. So I think my set point is different than most people’s. Sure, absolutely. But I am blown away by the simple fact that our bodies adjust so well to being in zero gravity.

I mean, so because of the fluid shift, what happens is, is you have too much fluid in the body. You have too much, your brain feels it, your body feels it. So what does it do in compensation? You pee it out. You absolutely pay it up. You see it in the first phase of space flight astronauts will diaries.

That means you get rid of the extra fluid. So it is so amazing that our bodies have compensatory mechanisms and know what to do when something like that happens, you decrease your plasma volume and because you don’t want too much concentration of your red blood cell. In your blood because your plasma volume is lower because you peed it all out.

You decreased the number of red blood cells. So your body has a way of compensating to make you as healthy as possible. In this new environment. To me, that is mind blowing that our bodies are so good at adjusting to a new situation. So. It’s crazy how intuitive and how our bodies. It just, that blows me away.

Yup. Body’s not in space. Oh yes. Agree. The bodies in space even more right? Dr. Donoviel. What’s next for true. Wow. Okay. So like I said, I’m always onto the next thing. I get very bored. So we are doing more commercial space flight. We are definitely expanding, not just the science and the access to different types of people.

We’re also expanding like new business models to, you know, we have to be able to execute research in a way that really kind of brings the best value to NASA and that. The taxpayers here on earth and the U S but. I’m really excited about some things that we just recently funded. And I want to tell you just really briefly about that.

We have, we kind of taken a different approach to solving some of the concerns that NASA has. They kind of take all the risks to human health and. They have a whole plan, a research plan and it’s risk by risk. So the behavior risk has a research plan and the radiation risk in the brain and the heart has a research plan and, and the food risk has a research plan and the, the medication stability risk has a research plan, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

So what we try to do is we try to find things that are crossing. And find something that was sort of be best bang for buck. Right? So looking for approaches that would take care of multiple risks, multiple problems. So one idea, and this case kind of came out of a crazy workshop that we ran a few years ago around.

Tore poor human tore port and tore part is a term that’s used in ecology and zoology. It describes when an animal goes into hibernation, it’s a state where the animal reduces its metabolism to conserve energy. So bears do it. Certain squirrel species, some birds, et cetera, and humans. It turns out humans used to do.

Long long, long time ago, before we had electricity and heat and all those things, we used to go into caves in the winter time. And we taught a, went into kind of a hibernation state. And we noticed because it’s a really interesting paper that was published a couple of years ago, basically found some DNA that, that matched with hibernating animals and started to look at the possibility that humans may have hibernated.

So we thought, what is. You really could put people into hibernation, like kind of like you see in those scifi movies, right. And, you know, there’s all kinds of reasons why that would not be good for the body because you want to exercise the muscles, the bones, you know, et cetera, et cetera. But what if you kind of alternated between, when you go to sleep, you actually reduce your metabolism in such a way.

That you could achieve two things. Number one, you would reduce the resources. So if you’re breathing less in, you’re in a reduced metabolism, you’re going to take up less oxygen and you’re going to, and you’re also going to eat less, which means you have, you don’t have to bring as much, uh, supplies, et cetera.

And so reducing metabolism would accomplish some of the resource problems that we may have on a long duration mission. But the other thing that’s really fascinating, it can also take care of the behavior problems. Sleep for like 20 hours a day, you know, you’re not going to go bonkers the rest of the time.

You’re just dreaming some beautiful dreams. So to me that solves the behavior problem too. And then, and then the third thing is, is that it could also reduce overall damage to the body. And why do I say that when. You have a massive traumatic event to your brain or your heart, they actually put you into a hibernation like status.

They will induce coma, or they will just cool you down so that the. The normal cellular processes that normally occur your brain actually is really active. It takes up the majority of your energy comes from brain activity. We can just kind of cool your jets a little bit, slow things down. There’s less damage that can occur just from the normal wear and tear on the body.

You’re producing a lot less waste. You don’t have to clear as much. And we know that. When things are active, that’s when radiation damaged can do the most damage and radiation damage can, can be the most impactful. So if you just kind of cool everything down and put people into a reduced metabolism state, that might be a cross-cutting solution that we need to look at.

So we recently. For completely wacky projects. Super cool. And you know, they’re very different from each other, but all of them trying to look at the possibility of putting humans into a reduced metabolism state, sort of like a semi hibernation. That is fantastic. I can not wait to hear more about that. Do you have any interest personally in traveling to space?

Oh sure. If somebody, let me go up for an orbital flight, like kind of like what they did recently. Oh yeah. I would go for sure. Would I go to ISS? Yeah, sure. I’d go to ISS. Do I want to go to the moon? Um, maybe, maybe, maybe for a couple of weeks, I would do it meaning either they can send me a postcard. I want my food.

I would love to hear your thoughts around the importance of mentorship. Was there a particular mentor that was instrumental for your personal. That’s a great question. And it’s the number one thing I would say to anybody, anybody at any point in their lives, you can be as old as me and still. I have mentors.

I’ve gathered mentors around me. I’ve always had a mentor. I’ve I’ve I’ve oh, if not one, several. Mentors are critical. You have to work at the relationships. You have to build those relationships. You have to pay it forward too. So remember it’s bi-directional the mentor also gets something out of the relationship sometimes through discussing stuff with people who I mentor.

And I have several people I mentor and I, and those people actually end up. Going and getting amazing jobs and doing cool things and are able to pay it back to me now I’ve seen it happen. So, you know, investing in people is probably the best way I can spend my time. And I, I absolutely mentor people that I also.

I look at it as a bi-directional interaction, not just that you pay it forward and you get it back later, the feeling of, you know, helping somebody, but also sometimes when you’re speaking to somebody, because I always speak to people as equals, I never looked down at anybody no matter what stage of their career they’re at.

They bring something fresh to the discussion. And so when I’m mentoring somebody, I will make incredible insights from that mentoring conversations that really helped me in my work. And so I never look at it as something that I’m giving them and they’re not giving back to me. I’m always getting something out of those conversations.

So mentoring is absolutely critical. You have to really work at it. You have to, um, By providing some value to the prospective mentor. And what do I mean by that? There’s just a lot of information out there. And so if you can help curate information for that very busy mentor for what do I mean by this?

Like if somebody sends me, look, I just saw this conference. It looks really good for your Institute or based on what I read about you or what you’re publishing about. I know that this might be interesting if you bring things like that to the table for these people, that’s a value or making introductions for them, or letting them know about an effort that’s going on in your own backyard.

That that might be helpful to them. Kind of building those relationships by giving them a little bit of something and then, you know, then they become a lot more open to spending some time with you. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out. In their career, whether it’s in biology or space.

Yeah. Don’t focus too early. I’ve read this wonderful book called Range. And it is about how people who cross train, whether it be in sport or science or business or anything that you do or literature or entertainment. When you cross train, you bring such an amazing wealth of experiences. It makes you so much more valuable to any organization that you join.

So when I hire somebody, I don’t. I don’t necessarily look for somebody who’s incredibly focused. In fact, if they’re too focused, I don’t like that because they’re only going to be, you know, sort of like stuck on one thing. I like to see that they have broad perspectives and broad experiences.

And so. Take that class in astronomy, or take that class in ethnic music, take that class in, you know, history of tribe, tribalism in the world, or, you know, humans, hibernating take all kinds of interesting things that will enrich your life and will enrich you as an individual. And that will. Be an amazing journey that you could bring to your experiences in, in any career.

What is a lesson that you have learned over the course of your career that you think is important? Don’t ever dismiss anybody early in my career? You know, I would kind of look and see, well, do I want to spend time with this individual? I want to give them the time of day. And, and I get a lot of requests for, from people.

And I have never dismissed people. I mean, I can’t respond to everything and B you know, I can’t fund everybody. I can’t hire everybody. I can’t. But if it just takes a few seconds to do a solid for somebody do it because you just. I really do believe in, you know, overall paying it out to everybody and, and you just never know what an impact you can make on that person’s life.

If you just took a couple seconds to respond and say, you know, thanks for that. I appreciate it. Keep, keep up the great work. Don’t have anything for you, but you know, I’ll keep it in mind. Just, it doesn’t take much, it’s no skin off your nose, as I like to say, you know? And, and it’s. Letting people feel that they are connected.

You know, contributing even in a small way is really important because, you know, we’re, we’re going to have to go to space together and all of us collectively as a species. And I think everybody has a part to play. No matter what they are, they don’t have to be an engineering or a scientist or physician.

Everybody has a part to play. And I truly believe that. So you just never know where the, where the good ideas are going to come from. So I really try never to pre-judge or pre presuppose whether a certain conversation will be valuable or not. You just never know Dr. Donoviel. Thank you so much for joining us.

It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me. And that concludes this episode of Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcast, Google podcasts, and Spotify. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course our website, where you can also learn about the various ways you can support Space Foundation.

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Space4U Podcast: Dorit Donoviel — Director, Translational Research Institute for Space Health