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Biotech Space Science

Spaceworms To Help Study Astronaut Muscle Loss 73

Posted by samzenpus
from the spacefish-ate-my-homework dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Telegraph reports that 4,000 microscopic worms were onboard Space Shuttle Atlantis when it launched today. Their mission: to help experts in human physiology understand more about what triggers the body to build and lose muscle. The worms are bound for the Japanese Experiment Module 'Kibo' on the International Space Station, where they will experience the same weightless conditions which can cause dramatic muscle loss, one of the major health concerns for astronauts. 'If we can identify what causes the body to react in certain ways in space we establish new pathways for research back on earth,' says Dr. Nathaniel Szewczyk."
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Spaceworms To Help Study Astronaut Muscle Loss

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  • muscle loss (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why don't we just give steroids to the astronauts, that should help them a bit with the muscle loss problem.

  • Bad idea (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @05:58AM (#30154276)

    Am I the only one who feels like this is a bad idea? We all remember what happened to the ants...

    I for one welcome our new medium sized giant spaceworm overlords!

  • by captainpanic (1173915) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @06:01AM (#30154290)

    Rather than having proper Snakes On A Plane, NASA investigated the concept, did a risk assessment, ran some simulations, modeled it, tested it in a swimming pool, and then decided that it was better to have Microscopic Worms On A Space Station.

    I was going to make more jokes about Worms Armageddon, but I think I'm done. Hope they left their banana bombs in Florida.

  • Surprisingly fast (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @06:10AM (#30154320) Homepage Journal

    I broke my right arm in a cycling accident on the 30th of july. The arm was pretty much immobilised for two months. To this day I still can't lift my right elbow above the level of my shoulder. The muscles in that arm are gone. Hard to think what shape I would be in if I spent six months on the ISS.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That doesn't sound like quite the same thing, a lack of range of motion is not the same as a weak muscle. Can you raise the arm fully while submerged? When upside down? If that isn't the case then it's more likely physiological damage to muscle/joint etc. than muscle degradation.

      • Re:Surprisingly fast (Score:4, Informative)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @06:23AM (#30154364) Homepage Journal

        Yeah lying down I can swing that arm to the vertical then back above my head. But working against gravity it can't go nearly as far. The joint seems okay and I have had to stretch the muscles on the bottom of the shoulder joint to get that amount of movement.

        I have had about a month of physiotherapy now and the advice I have is that the limiting factor is the strength of the muscles which lift the arm.

        • Give it time (Score:2, Informative)

          by Mathinker (909784)

          > I have had about a month of physiotherapy now

          I don't think you should lose hope for at least another 11 months and probably more. I broke my wrist and its functionality improved for many months after I was free of the immobilization framework. Of course, it probably would be best if you continue doing physiotheraputic exercises even after the period which is usually believed to be the window of opportunity by conventional medicine (if your physiotherapy is anything like the one I got for my wrist, you

          • by X0563511 (793323)

            I got electrocuted (ok ok, shocked... but it was several hundred volts with the potential to push a couple amps, resistance allowing) in a way that the electricity passed through my shoulder. I wasn't able to lift it up against gravity either.

            Eventually, this got better... months later. It's still a bit creaky sometimes, occasionally it 'snags' and feels quite "interesting" if I push it without dropping it again.

            So, what you are seeing may not necessarily be atrophy from the immobilization, but actual damag

        • That seems like a rotator cuff injury, when you can't raise your arm above your head. The fall that broke your arm, or the immobilization of the arm after the injury, may have resulted in your rotator cuff being damaged or atrophied. Go to an orthopedic specialist to check out your shoulder. You may need surgery and/or several months of physiotherapy to repair the damaged rotator cuff muscles/tendons.

          • The doctors and physiotherapists both checked for a rotator cuff injury. They didn't find anything wrong there. I just have to work on these muscles In think. It has only been three weeks since I took the brace off the arm.

        • There is "perhaps" a chance you can either a) increase the size of the muscle cells, or b) increase the number of muscle cells in the proper conditions. Check out : http://www.hypertrophy-specific.com/hst_index.html [hypertrophy-specific.com] for some basics. the forums are filled with interesting discussion which might help you out.

  • Nice seeing worms doing some good for a change.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Nice seeing worms doing some good for a change

      Eh? The worms in my garden do a lot of good.

  • Why do we need to conduct an experiement to determine whether space travel can muscles to atrophy? Common sense tells us that muscles in space will certainly atrophy.

    We see this atrophy in hospital patients who are confined to bed for years in a coma. These patients never exercise their muscles, and they simply atrophy. Being in space is worse than being in bed. Lack of gravity means that your muscles are not constantly being exercised. Your muscles will waste away.

    The fix for this problem is to us

    • Duh (Score:2, Insightful)

      by justinlee37 (993373)

      It seems likely to me that the worms will be subjected to various treatments ("test groups") to see if there is a way to reduce this muscle atrophy.

      You seem confident that you know what the "fix" is, but without experimentation your suggestion is merely a hypothesis.

    • by Tellarin (444097)

      Common sense != Science.

      Also, it doesn't explain why or how atrophy happens or how to prevent it.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      From the summary (not even the article!) they want to "understand more about what triggers the body to build and lose muscle". Funnily enough, they're trying to understand processes critical to space travel. Those crazy NASA bastards.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Why do we need to conduct an experiement to determine whether space travel can muscles to atrophy? Common sense tells us that muscles in space will certainly atrophy.

      We see this atrophy in hospital patients who are confined to bed for years in a coma. These patients never exercise their muscles, and they simply atrophy. Being in space is worse than being in bed. Lack of gravity means that your muscles are not constantly being exercised. Your muscles will waste away.

      You are absolutely correct, because al

  • you know, worms and space suits do work in some weird ways, like shooting houses and carring pigs around.
  • The astronauts should just lift weights.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @08:12AM (#30154740)

    The astronaut goes to see the flight surgeon, who tells him he has worms, but not to worry. There is a 100% effective treatment.

    Visit One: The surgeon shoves an apple, a pear, and a banana up the astronaut's ass.

    Visit Two:The surgeon shoves an apple, a pear, and a banana up the astronaut's ass.

    Visit Three: The surgeon shoves an apple and a pear up the astronaut's ass, then stands there holding the banana like a weapon. The worm sticks its head out of the astronaut's ass and says "Hey! Where's my banana?"

    Whap! The surgeon knocks out the worm and pulls it out.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Spacing Guild will be pleased.
  • I believe "spaceworms" is inaccurate. They are earth worms... "In spppaccee!!"
  • Whatever the pathways involved, say we discover some incredibly complex mechanism that regulates muscle mass; it still won't solve the basic problem. Being in free-fall or "zero g" for long enough causes involution of muscle and deteriorates bone strength. Now perhaps some pharmaceutical company can be persuaded to invest billions of dollars, one this pathway is discovered, to invent a drug that blocks it and thus lets astronaut keep their muscles. Then they will sell the pills to NASA and other space pr

    • Whatever the pathways involved, say we discover some incredibly complex mechanism that regulates muscle mass; it still won't solve the basic problem. Being in free-fall or "zero g" for long enough causes involution of muscle and deteriorates bone strength. Now perhaps some pharmaceutical company can be persuaded to invest billions of dollars, one this pathway is discovered, to invent a drug that blocks it and thus lets astronaut keep their muscles. Then they will sell the pills to NASA and other space programs, at $1 million per pill.

      Frankly wouldn't it be better to understand the relationship between gravity and muscle mass/bone density, and work on ways to simulate gravity instead? Methinks it would be far cheaper, AND resolve the situation.

      As with most space-related stuff, there are applications beyond the realm of 0 G environments.

      Muscles atrophy here on Earth as well. Folks who are immobilized due to injuries or illness suffer muscle loss. In some cases it requires an awful lot of physical therapy to get that muscle back. In other cases it just isn't possible to fix.

      Assuming we're able to discover "some incredibly complex mechanism that regulates muscle mass" - that information can be applied down here on Earth as well.

      And if a pharmaceu

  • Seriously? (Score:2, Funny)

    by stephencrane (771345)
    Is everyone really going to let it slide that there's an ISS module called 'Kibo'?
  • The Japanese are sending worms to Kibo in space? How long has Kibo been in space? When did that happen? And what the hell does he want with worms??

    I swear, you miss one day around here - ONE DAY - and you're completely lost.
  • Remember when you had to go to Earth and eat brownies out of the sandbox to get worms?
  • I wonder how many 10's of billions of dollars have been spent studying muscle and bone atrophy in microgravity? Enough, I think, to launch a 1G rotating section on the space station so we never have to endure this silly discussion again.

  • The normally stated reason why it is tricky to simulate gravity using a rotating space station is that the curvature causes the generated gravitational field to be inhomogeneous and that this generally results in nausea. Thus I'm wondering a few things:

    a) Is it known what radius of circulation is needed to avoid this?

    b) Is the primary problem that the artificial gravity points in different directions in points separated by a small distance, or is it that the magnitude of the field changes with distance from

  • These are the same worms who survived reentry inside their experimental cannister when Columbia broke up in 2003:

    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/01/04/0334219 [slashdot.org]

    http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/05/01/1134217 [slashdot.org]

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