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Archived - The Next Canadian Science on the International Space Station

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The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has selected four new science experiments to be conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS), beginning in the fall 2015. The four studies were picked for their relevance to medical and health issues stemming from space travel (the CSA's top priority for ISS science), and for the benefits they offer for life on Earth.

Space exploration has driven significant advances in scientific research for Canada, many of which are related to health and medicine. For instance, with support from the CSA, the Canadian company Best Medical (formerly Thompson-Neilson) tested radiation detectors in the space suits of astronauts during spacewalks. The tests helped improve the device, which is now being used in over 1000 cancer clinics worldwide to better protect medical staffs who administer radiation treatments to patients.

ExperimentDescriptionHow it worksApplications on Earth
Principal Investigator: Dr Guy Trudel, University of Ottawa

This study will investigate the effect of weightlessness on the bone marrow. It is believed that microgravity, like long-duration bedrest on Earth, has a negative effect on the bone marrow and the blood cells it produces. The extent of this and its recovery are of interest to space research and health care providers on Earth.

Space flight anemia and susceptibility to infection are major concerns for long-duration space flights. Fat cells in the bone marrow may directly impact blood cell production and this study will uncover how this is altered in microgravity. This knowledge may lead to mitigation strategies for future space exploration.

Before and after their space flight, subjects will have a magnetic resonance imaging of the lower spine. Blood and breath samples will also be collected before, during and after space flight. A better understanding of the relationship between fat cells and blood-producing cells in the bone marrow is key to minimizing the impact of decreased physical activity in our society, for example, for people during prolonged bed stays in intensive care, persons with reduced mobility or the elderly.
Principal Investigator: Dr Steven K. Boyd, University of Calgary
In various circumstances (such as ageing, immobilization in bed for a long period, or when an astronaut is floating in weightlessness), the bones supporting the body's weight lose their density and strength. Using new 3D imaging technology that can distinguish changes in bone tissues and better assess bone strength, this study will measure the effect of weightlessness on bone quality in the leg (tibia) and forearm (radius). This information will be used to estimate bone strength and will be compared to blood biomarkers related to bone adaptation that affect strength. The investigation of bone quality will complement today's knowledge about the response of bone to reduced stress (unloading) in weightlessness and bring novel insights into bone micro-architecture and strength. Astronauts will undergo bone scans before and after space flight to measure bone density and architecture. The study will also make use of data-sharing with other scientists to access data from blood and urine samples, as well as in-flight food intake, medication, supplements and exercise. Space flight bone loss is a useful model for bone loss due to immobilization or menopause. The outcomes of TBone could be used to better understand bone loss, identify those who are predisposed to bone loss, and lead to individualized treatment strategies.
Principal Investigator: Dr Richard Lee Hughson, University of Waterloo
As we get older, our arteries get stiffer and this causes increases in blood pressure (hypertension) and risk for cardiovascular disease. Recently, it has been observed that some astronauts returning from the ISS have much stiffer arteries than before they went into space. This research will examine changes in blood vessels and the heart while the astronauts are in space and then follow their recovery on return from space, and link these changes to blood biomarkers reflecting risk factors for arterial stiffness including development of insulin resistance. The results could provide insight into potential countermeasures to help maintain astronaut health and quality of life for everyone. Astronaut subjects will provide blood samples before, during and after space flight. Ultrasounds will be conducted while resting and during exercise, before, during and after flight. On earth, physical inactivity is associated with development of cardiovascular risk factors including insulin resistance and arterial stiffness. There are signs of accelerated arterial stiffening during space missions. Thus, space flight can provide a platform to explore underlying mechanisms with a goal to design interventions on earth that will slow vascular ageing and improve the health and quality of life for everyone.
At Home In Space
Dr Phyllis J Johnson, University of British Columbia
This study assesses culture, values, and psychosocial adaptation of astronauts to a space environment shared by multinational crews on long-duration missions. It is hypothesized that astronauts develop a shared space culture that is an adaptive strategy for handling cultural differences and they deal with the isolated confined environment of the space craft by creating a home in space. The research will also assess how meeting the challenges of the environment can result in positive changes in psychosocial factors. At Home In Space uses a questionnaire (completed before, during and after the astronaut's mission) to investigate individual and culturally-related differences, family functioning, values, coping with stress, and post-experience growth.

There are many communities on Earth that share some of the characteristics of a space capsule, and whose functioning could be improved by our findings, including:

  • the elderly, especially those in group housing, assisted living centres, or nursing homes.
  • people living in remote, confined, and isolated environments (e.g., resource extraction camps, oil rigs, long-voyage tankers, cargo ships, and the Arctic and Antarctic), and
  • those whose employment is dangerous and requires periodic absences from family (e.g., military deployments).

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