Backgrounder Article from  Canadian Space Agency

New Canadian Studies in the field of space health research

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is funding four new science experiments to be conducted on Earth in space-like conditions, starting in the winter 2015-2016. They were chosen for their relevance to health issues stemming from space travel, and for the benefits they offer for life on Earth.

These projects were first selected through two European Space Agency (ESA) announcements of opportunity, followed by an Announcement of Opportunity that assessed relevance to Canada, led by the CSA.

The research will be conducted at the Concordia and Halley research stations in Antarctica, led by the ESA and at the British Antarctic Survey respectively, and by ESA with the Institut de Médecine et de Physiologie spatiales (MEDES) in France.

ExperimentDescriptionHow it worksApplications on Earth

Psychological Status Monitoring by Content Analysis and Acoustic-Phonetic Analysis of Oral Behaviour

Peter Suedfeld, University of British Columbia

The project investigates psychological aspects of isolation inherent to spaceflight. Using two Antarctic stations, it will develop unique tools and protocols to measure how people in an isolated, confined environment interact.

The results will identify early signs of distress or poor adaptation, so that interventions can begin quickly, to enhance wellbeing in spacecraft.

Winter-over crewmembers at Concordia and Halley research stations will provide recordings of conversations, oral diaries, and text read aloud.

Content and technical aspects (rhythm, speed, pitch, loudness, etc.) of their speech will be analyzed for stress, positive and negative emotions, problems and solutions, interpersonal relations, etc.

The psychological effects of isolation as studied in this project are also applicable to remote work environments and communities in Canada, as well as to isolated elderly people.

Bone Marrow Changes With Long-Duration Bed Rest: Impact on Target Organ and Personalized Rehabilitation

Guy Trudel, University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital

Conditions that remove load on the body adversely affect the bone marrow cell populations and their functions. In microgravity and during prolonged bed rest, the bone marrow gains fat cells limiting the volume available to blood-forming cells-of absolute importance for survival.

This can lead to anemia, amongst other conditions.

Using medical imaging and biochemical analyses, the team will measure fat content in the marrow of subjects submitted to 60 days of bed confinement, at the MEDES facilities, and evaluate their blood cell dynamics and functions.

The research may lead to novel countermeasure strategies against bone fatty changes and could help gain valuable insights into anemia.

The elderly and people who suffer a trauma such as spinal cord injury could also benefit from these new findings.

Prevention of Skeletal Muscle Deconditioning During Bed Rest With Targeted Micronutrient Supplementation

Bernard Jasmin, University of Ottawa

Microgravity has detrimental effects on the structure and function of skeletal muscle. Muscle atrophy is associated with reduced quality of life and decreased life expectancy. The study seeks to understand the genetic, cellular and molecular aspects behind muscle atrophy, and its relationship to inactivity.

The findings will be used to develop new ways to address and prevent deterioration of muscle mass during space travel.

The study will analyse muscle samples in two types of leg muscles before and after subjects' long-term bed confinement at the MEDES facilities. Biochemical and genetic techniques will be used to analyze muscle gene function and protein production and degradation. The team will also compare the level of intramuscular fat tissue before and after the prolonged supine position.

Muscle atrophy occurs in response to a variety of factors including microgravity as well as disuse, immobilization, sedentary lifestyle and malnutrition.

The research will uncover new targets for the development of therapeutic interventions aimed at countering muscle atrophy due to disease or disuse conditions on Earth.

Effects of Bed Rest Immobilization on Cardio-Postural Control and Regulation

Andrew Blaber, Simon Fraser University

Astronauts often experience dizziness and light-headedness upon standing after landing, which could lead to fainting and falls. This research investigates the interactions between the control of posture muscle contractions and the regulation of the heart and blood vessels in response to blood pressure changes upon standing.

Over the long term, the research outcomes will be applied to the design of countermeasures for astronauts.

The supine position is used to simulate human physiological changes during spaceflight. Its effects on the interaction between the cardiovascular and postural systems will be assessed before and after confinement to bed at the MEDES facilities. During bed confinement, changes in the cardiovascular regulation will also be monitored to determine its contribution to the overall process of spaceflight deconditioning. The cardiovascular changes that occur in spaceflight parallel those of the aging process. Therefore, the research will improve the understanding of the underlying factors that contribute to falls and might help the development of fall prevention strategies for the elderly.

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