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Biotech Space Science

Spaceworms To Help Study Astronaut Muscle Loss 73

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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  • Re:Surprisingly fast (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 19, 2009 @06:18AM (#30154344)

    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 ) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @07:16AM (#30154560) Journal

    > 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 have been given exercises to do by yourself). I don't have any problem with that, because I study aikido, so I get free "physiotherapy" for my wrist with every practice session.

    I understand that my case is a bit different in that my problem was more joint flexibility rather than muscle strength, but I still think you are being premature. And of course, I wish you the best of luck with your recovery!

  • Two type of muscle (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Thursday November 19, 2009 @07:58AM (#30154700) Homepage

    2. They are not immobile on the ISS, they can exercise, and unlike you, they are not lazy.

    That's (almost) no help. You have 2 types of skeletal muscles fibers.

    One, Type II fibers (what's commonly named "red meat") is able to contract fast with great strength over short period of time.
    That's what you use when you exercice or do efforts. It's used for impulse-type efforts.

    The other Type I fibers (what's commonly named "white meat") is slower, less powerful, but can contract over long period of time.
    You are continuously using them whole day long just to stay upright, against gravity.

    By doing sport, you (preferably) build up type II fibers.
    What melts in zero-G and what you need to recreate once back on the ground are type I fibers.

    In short, to give an exaggerated image :
    By making sports on the ISS you create astronautes who have the muscle mass of a Terminator-era Arnold Schwartzeneger, who could lift half a ton.
    But can't stand upright more than 20 minutes.
    Of course, I'm exaggerating. Endurance training (running on a fitness machine) has better effect on the gravity-dependent muscle mass. Nonetheless the current situation is not the most efficient.

    3. I really don't see any benefit in this particular experiment, muscle atrophy is very well known, if you don't use it, you lose it. It's as simple as that, sure exercise on the ISS helps a bit, but without the constant gravity tugging on everything and straining the muscles 24/7, you're bound to begin to lose muscle density in 0 G.

    First, it's not "as simple as that". See above.

    In addition, in Science there's a certain difference between "We know it exists" and "Here is an exhaustive map of absolutely all chemicals involved in the whole process from begin to end".
    (and then further difference with "here are a couple of drugs which can influence it and slow down the muscle melting").
    From an ethical point of view, the advantage of the space-worms is that you can sacrifice them, and dissect-them and analyse all the proteins and other chemical they contain. (Whereas with human astronaut, you're ethically limited to blood samples).

    The benefit is to have a better understanding of the minute details involved in muscle loss (as opposed to just know that it exist).

    The hope is that, on the long term, such knowledge could bring benefits :
    - Space Medecine : better treatments to help astronauts avoid losing muscle mass (current hGH is the only used one, according to a quick look-up in wikipedia).
    - Surgery : better handling of patients with muscle atrophy due to long immobilising
    - Degenerative disease : New clues for treating muscles degenerative disease
    - Cosmetics : Instant budy building in a pill for Arnold "Terminator" Schwartzeneger wannabes.
    - Military : Instant super soldier-in-a-pill
    - (Illegal) sports : Even more doping.

    Well, in short having more data about a problem is always useful.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban