Dr Guy Trudel, a specialist in physical rehabilitation in the Department of Medicine at the University of Ottawa, works every day with people who have had serious accidents or are suffering complications as a result of illness or surgery. He conducts clinical studies to explore some of the problems experienced by patients confined to bed for long periods of time.
His research focuses on musculoskeletal structures: bones, joints and tendons. He is thus a very interested participant in the WISE study, an experiment on the effects of microgravity on the human body, carried out jointly by the European Space Agency, the French space agency, NASA, and the Canadian Space Agency.
The WISE (Women International Space Simulation for Exploration) study, which began in 2005, is taking place in France, at the MEDES space clinic. For two months, 24 female volunteers will undergo a unique experience: remaining in bed, tilted with head down at an angle of 6° below horizontal. The effect of this position on the body is similar to that of long periods in space.
It's an interesting experiment. Researchers do not have many opportunities for space travel and missions are very expensive, so a bedrest study has many advantages as an alternative. "At present, it is not possible to conduct this type of study in space. Prolonged bedrest is used as a model for studying the negative effects of microgravity."
"The physical problems experienced by astronauts upon returning from space are astonishingly similar to those felt by the patients I treat. In particular, they suffer from muscle atrophy, loss of balance, loss of bone mass, weight loss, and loss of physical endurance. Through clinical studies, my colleagues and I are trying to identify preventative treatments that would minimize the effects of bed rest and microgravity on the human body."
"My job is to help my patients regain their independence as quickly as possible and to enable them to resume their everyday activities. Most of them have received treatment in a special care hospital over a long period of time, including at least one stay in intensive care. After their health has stabilized, they have serious problems, are very weak and can be left with permanent disabilities."
"I am always touched by the courage of my patients in the face of adversity. I must also acknowledge the unfailing devotion of the members of our care team at the Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre."
Making a scientific discovery is always a source of pride and satisfaction for a researcher. Dr Trudel had this pleasure when he and his team measured the progression of articular rigidity caused by immobility. "Our findings were not what we had expected. After weeks of wondering, we completely revised our way of taking and analyzing measurements, which led to two fascinating discoveries. They will have concrete application in the treatment of chronic childhood diseases which reduce the mobility of children during times of greatest bone growth." It is hoped that the WISE study will lead to such tangible results.