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Longevity Briefs: A Common Cause For Health Decline In Space?

Posted on 30 November 2020

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: It is now theoretically possible for humans to live in space indefinitely. In reality, the time spent in space is limited by the fact that low gravity environments take a significant toll on the human body, affecting astronauts’ muscles, bone mass, hearts and even brains. This is a problem that will need to be overcome as humans venture further and further from Earth. However, little is known about what actually drives the changes caused by microgravity.

What did the researchers do: Over 200 scientists pooled data to generate the largest set of space-related biological data produced to date. This included physiological measurements from astronauts, data from mice sent to the International Space Station, as well as data from NASA’s twin study, in which astronaut Scott Kelly spent almost a year in space while his identical twin Mark Kelly remained on on Earth.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The study found that dysfunction of the mitochondria – the cellular structures that produce energy – appears to be a common thread linking the diverse symptoms seen after extended time in space. Mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to detrimental changes in metabolism, gene expression and in the immune system. In this study, however, it was not possible to say whether mitochondrial dysfunction was a cause or a consequence of other changes associated with low gravity environments.

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