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Medical experiments in space

Thermo-Mini: Changes in physique temperature throughout long-term space missions can be monitored utilizing a headband-mounted thermal sensor. Credit: DLR

The SpaceX provider rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, U.S. early on Thursday morning, Central European Time. The ‘Cosmic Kiss’ mission’s 4 crew members will journey to the International Space Station (ISS) on board a Crew Dragon capsule. They will stay on the ISS till April 2022. Joining his three NASA colleagues is ESA astronaut Dr. Matthias Maurer, the twelfth German in space and the fourth German on the ISS. This would be the 51-year-old supplies scientist’s first-ever space flight, for which he has been coaching and making ready since April 2020.

During his mission, Dr. Maurer will conduct an array of experiments. Responsibility for the choice and coordination of the mission’s German experiments rests with the German Space Agency on the DLR. All experiments have accomplished quite a few testing phases, equivalent to parabolic flights. Responsibility for his or her planning and completion rests with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ‘Columbus Control Centre’, which is situated on the DLR facility. All of them can be performed contained in the Columbus Module, a European analysis facility which varieties a part of the ISS. Of the greater than 100 experiments which Dr. Maurer can be conducting, 35 have German involvement. They vary from primary analysis endeavors to application-oriented analysis from areas such because the life sciences, pure sciences, and supplies science. Four of the initiatives to be performed on board have been developed with Charité involvement.

“The zero gravity conditions on board the ISS offer us a unique environment. They enable us to study biological and physical processes almost without interference from distorting factors, something that would not be possible in any laboratory on Earth. We are delighted about this opportunity and are keen to see how these projects unfold,” says Prof. Dr. Hanns-Christian Gunga, Deputy Director of Charité’s Institute of Physiology and spokesperson for the Institute’s Center for Space Medicine and Extreme Environments Berlin (ZWMB).

Details of initiatives with Charité involvement:


Human physiology has developed to work with Earth’s gravity. This consists of physique temperature regulation. Zero gravity circumstances disrupt regular thermoregulation, the method which retains the physique at a continuing temperature. The result’s a persistently elevated physique temperature, which can be known as ‘space fever’. The Thermo-Mini undertaking will use a headband-mounted, miniaturized thermal sensor to report Dr. Maurer’s physique temperature and circadian rhythm. The goal is to make sure astronauts like Dr. Maurer don’t endanger their very own well being because of overheating throughout train and extravehicular actions. The thermal sensor provides a dependable, speedy and pain-free methodology of steady temperature monitoring over an extended time period.

It is hoped that the information thus collated will decide whether or not or not the miniature sensor is appropriate for long-term use in space. It is feasible the sort of temperature monitoring will one day be included in normal astronaut well being monitoring protocols. The system can also be appropriate to be used by folks working in different excessive environments, equivalent to miners and firefighters.

Medical experiments in space
Myotones: By measuring totally different properties of muscle mass utilizing a hand-held measuring system, researchers will have the ability to detect indicators of muscle loss and consider the success of focused coaching applications. Credit: DLR


An acceptable train program, geared toward sustaining muscle strength in zero gravity circumstances, is essential; it permits the ISS crew to struggle muscle atrophy and preserve bodily health. The Myotones undertaking will analyze key biomechanical properties of skeletal muscle to allow researchers to each determine and struggle the indicators of muscle atrophy. Throughout the whole mission (in addition to earlier than and after it), Dr. Maurer will use a small, hand-held system to measure his resting muscle tone (muscle rigidity when at relaxation) and monitor each muscle stiffness and elasticity (additionally at relaxation).

The MyotonPRO system, which is roughly the scale of a smartphone, can be used to observe roughly ten pre-determined measurement factors throughout the astronaut’s physique. The system obtains readings through a small sensor which is briefly positioned on to the pores and skin, producing and storing real-time knowledge on the biomechanical properties of underlying buildings equivalent to muscle mass, ligaments and myofascia.

Medical experiments in space
EasyMotion: As a part of this undertaking, muscle coaching can be supported utilizing {an electrical} muscle stimulation (EMS) swimsuit. Credit: NASA


The goal of the EasyMotion undertaking is to help the astronaut’s program of muscle-building workout routines. Throughout the mission, Dr. Maurer can be sporting a specifically certified space swimsuit when exercising on the ISS. The swimsuit’s dry electrodes (that are flat and absolutely built-in into the swimsuit’s materials) ship temporary, low-frequency impulses to stimulate muscle mass. This ‘electrical muscle stimulation (EMS)’ will complement the astronaut’s routine coaching program. The goal is to optimize coaching effectiveness in the course of the preparation stage, all through the space mission and after his return, and to scale back the general time spent on workout routines to under the present 2.5 hours a day.

This undertaking will work in conjunction with the Myotones undertaking which, along with evaluating the properties of skeletal muscle, may also take measurements at 60-day intervals to find out the consequences of EMS on skeletal muscle. The knowledge thus collected can be promptly transmitted to the ESA floor station in Toulouse, France. In conjunction with the ESA’s ‘European Astronaut Centre’ (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, they’ll then be analyzed by a workforce of researchers from Charité’s ZWMB.

Medical experiments in space
Cellbox-3: This undertaking will use a totally automated micro-laboratory to check 3D cell cultures of muscle and nerve cells underneath zero gravity circumstances to enhance our understanding of cell-to-cell contacts. Credit: Charité | Michele Salanova


Normal muscle perform relies on neuromuscular junctions, the synapses which kind the contact factors between nerve cells and muscle cells. The NEMUCO/Cellbox-3 undertaking will research adjustments within the construction and performance of those cell-to-cell contact factors. For the primary time, cell culture-based experiments can be used to check cell formation underneath zero gravity circumstances.

Using a totally automated micro-laboratory, three-dimensional cell tradition fashions of remoted nerve cells can be co-cultured with younger skeletal muscle cells. These cultures will then be uncovered to managed circumstances on the ISS for a number of days. The cells can be chemically fastened whereas nonetheless underneath zero gravity circumstances. Once the space mission returns to Earth, the samples can be analyzed at Charité. In addition to microscopic evaluation, cells may also endure RNA sequencing and proteomic evaluation, i.e., an evaluation of the whole set of proteins discovered inside a cell. It is hoped that the findings gleaned from these experiments will enhance our understanding of the molecular processes concerned in supplying muscle mass with nerve cells.

It is additional hoped that, after the mission’s return to Earth, Charité’s initiatives will inform endeavors geared toward optimizing rehabilitation and coaching applications. “Muscle tone and muscle stiffness are important indicators of muscle health and, consequently, indicators of physical fitness and physiological performance—both in space and on Earth,” says Prof. Dr. Dieter Blottner of Charité’s Institute of Neuroanatomy and Charité’s ZWMB. “The non-invasive and easy-to-use technology utilized as part of our Myotones project may one day be used in areas outside of sports medicine and physiotherapy, such as in the clinical evaluation of people with movement disorders, musculoskeletal disorders and musculoskeletal injuries. The implementation of this digital technology in routine clinical practice may enable the objective evaluation of a patient’s current health status and may help clinicians to monitor treatment progress.”

NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts launch to space station alongside microgravity research

Medical experiments in space (2021, November 11)
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