(ORDO NEWS) — Several experiments to study bone density have been launched to the ISS using the Northrop Grumman cargo capsule. The experiments were designed by engineers at the University of Michigan.
Associate Professor Allen Lew and members of his research team detailed how experiments in space can help in the study of osteoporosis.
This disease affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle with age, which can cause fractures even with minor stress.
Microgravity can also cause physiological changes in the bones. It is a unique research environment where there are no typical mechanical stresses associated with gravity.
The stiffness of a cell can tell about its biological age, predicting how its functionality or susceptibility to chronic disease may deteriorate over time.
Researchers are testing the theory that when cells are not under the influence of gravity, the reduction in stiffness makes them susceptible to the same type of changes we see in osteoporosis.
Scientists believe that these health effects can be prevented by mechanically squeezing cells in a way that mimics gravity.
Researchers believe that the absence of gravity causes cell softening, which may be responsible for the bone loss seen in astronauts after a long stay on the ISS.
Astronauts perform resistance exercises on board to create a compression effect that is absent without gravity.
To test the stiffness of cells under ISS conditions, scientists use an automated microfluidic device that uses fluid to capture individual cells and slowly increase pressure on each cell, causing deformation.
Fluorescent markers allow you to see its shape at every pressure level. The device is integrated into a system that takes pictures and videos to collect data to measure cage stiffness.
If the hypothesis is confirmed, the results of the experiment will allow a better understanding of how changes in physical forces, such as gravity, affect the mechanical characteristics of bone cells and bone formation.
In the second experiment, the scientists are investigating how microgravity affects the activity of osteoblasts, the cells that create new bone tissue.
By placing spherical clusters of osteoblasts in zero gravity and applying compression, the scientists want to find out if this contributes to the development and maintenance of bone cells and the prevention of bone loss.
The first experiment will be carried out on the ISS, and samples from the second experiment will be returned to Earth in January for analysis.
The results of the study should shed light on whether compression garments and spacesuits can prevent bone loss in astronauts exposed to microgravity.
This kind of technology could help protect crews traveling to the ISS as well as other destinations.
In addition to contributing to osteoporosis research, the researchers expect their findings to also be useful in the treatment of other age-related diseases and cancers. Cell mechanics and architecture, which are fundamental to this research, are also important in these areas.
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