MARROW: Keeping bones healthy in space

Health Science

The Canadian experiment MARROW studies how bone marrow (the spongy tissue inside bones) and the blood cells it produces change in space.

Background

During a space mission, the hard bones lose calcium and strength, but what happens to the bone marrow has never been measured. Experiments on Earth suggest fat cells in bone marrow may increase, leaving less room for the production of red and white blood cells.

A decrease in red blood cells can produce anemia, whose symptoms include physical limitations such as weakness, persistent fatigue, and slower brain function. With fewer white blood cells, the body becomes more vulnerable to infections and more sensitive to radiation exposure.

Studying the effects of ageing and immobility in space with Tim Peake

ESA astronaut Tim Peake is taking part in the Canadian experiment MARROW that will study these effects to benefit astronauts and people on Earth who are bedridden or who have reduced mobility. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA, University of Ottawa)

Transcript

Objectives

MARROW aims to:

 Impacts on Earth

MARROW's findings will help ease the effects of physical inactivity on seniors, bedridden patients, and those with reduced mobility or undergoing rehabilitative treatment.

How it works

Thirteen astronauts are participating in this study.

  1. Before the astronauts leave Earth, researchers use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to establish the fat content in their bone marrow.
  2. The participants also give blood and breath samples before their flights to assess red and white blood cell function.
  3. On the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts repeat the same blood and breath samples.
  4. For up to a year after return, they undergo serial MRI scans. Comparing these images allows scientists to chart their recovery and track how much fat tissue has accumulated in the confined space inside the bones.
  5. A final set of blood and breath samples are tested and compared.

Timeline

MARROW began collecting data in and is scheduled to complete its final tests in June 2020.

Photo of Thomas Pesquet

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet is inserting blood tubes into MELFI (the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer) aboard the ISS. Putting the blood samples in a deep freeze helps keep the samples intact until they are flown back to Earth for testing by scientists. (Credit: NASA)

Research team

Principal investigator

Co-investigators and employees

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