For the first time ever, a University of Ottawa research team will conduct a study on astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The study, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency, is called MARROW, short for Bone Marrow Adipose Reaction: Red or White? Researchers will focus on the biology of rehabilitation, more specifically on the impact of long-term microgravity exposure on bone marrow content and activity. Starting December 15, the first astronaut will participate in the MARROW study for a full six months on board the ISS.
The study is led by Dr. Guy Trudel, full professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, director of the Bone and Joint Research Laboratory and physician at The Ottawa Hospital, and Professor Odette Laneuville, a Faculty of Science expert in the biology of rehabilitation.
The physiological effects of microgravity that astronauts experience are very similar to those bedridden patients experience. When the human body is subjected to long-term bed rest or decreased mobility, thus exposing the bone to less mechanical loading, fat content in bone marrow increases. This affects the ability to generate new blood cells, including red and white blood cells, says Laneuville.
The astronauts' prolonged involvement will allow for the longitudinal study of the accumulation of bone marrow fat after having lived in microgravity. Back on Earth, the research results will be beneficial to people suffering from decreased mobility, the elderly or hospital patients exposed to long durations of bed rest by guiding their rehabilitation.
Findings in astronauts will provide unique insight into the basic mechanisms behind the effects of immobility, which in turn may lead directly to exploring physical countermeasures or new drugs for prevention and treatment, said Trudel, an expert on the musculoskeletal effects of immobility and principal investigator of MARROW.
The researchers will measure bone marrow fat and blood cell survival and function. They will use non-invasive measures including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the marrow of the astronauts' vertebral bones before and after flight, as well as blood, breath and other samples. A total of 10 astronauts will participate in the MARROW study.
Co-investigators include Dr. Adnan Sheikh, Ian Cameron, Tim Ramsay, Paola Sebastiani, and Alain Stintzi.
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