A group of scientists from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Amgen, UCB, BioServe Space Technologies and the University of North Carolina, is collaborating with NASA to carry out an experiment aboard Atlantis aimed at revealing strategies to protect future astronauts from bone loss due to spending weeks and months in a low-gravity environment.
The research will not only address a serious problem that affects astronauts, but may also yield novel insights into the prevention and treatment of skeletal fragility among patients on earth who are less active due to aging or illness.
"Mechanical loading is required to maintain musculoskeletal health," explains co-principal Investigator Mary Bouxsein, PhD, a scientist in BIDMC's Center for Advanced Orthopaedic Studies and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School.
NASA's Commercial Biomedical Test Module (CBTM-3) experiment will examine whether the use of an antibody that blocks the action of the protein sclerostin can lead to gains in bone mass and thereby prevent skeletal deterioration.
Thirty mice will be flown in space, with half of the animals given a preflight injection of the sclerostin antibody and the remaining mice receiving a placebo. After the flight lands (following 12 days in space), various aspects of the structure, composition, strength and cell and molecular nature of the bones from the flight and ground-based control mice will be analyzed.
"When the mice come back from space, we hope to learn what the effects of microgravity are on the skeleton and on the muscle," Bouxsein said.