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Canadian scientists to lead new ground-based studies to benefit astronauts, life on Earth

A view of the Pacific Ocean as seen from a window of the cupola on the International Space Station

A view of the Pacific Ocean as seen from a window of the cupola on the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

The Canadian Space Agency is supporting Canadian research designed to ultimately better understand the effects of space on the human body. Nine grants will support scientific investigations using ground-based research approaches. The projects will be conducted by researchers at Canadian universities.

The first approach, data mining, involves analyzing previously collected data to gain new knowledge. While astronauts live and work onboard the International Space Station, a lot of information on their health is collected. The aim of these studies, performed afterwards on Earth, is to analyze existing data in the hopes of shedding light on new research questions.

Three grants using data mining are awarded to:

Table 1
Researcher and institution Study topic Grant amount (Canadian dollars)
Dr. Richard Hughson,
University of Waterloo
The team will study how well blood vessels in the brain soften pulses from the heart. They will also test whether astronauts' exercise routines protect their brains. A better understanding of the link between blood vessel health and thought processes in aging humans on Earth can help protect astronauts during future long-duration missions venturing farther into space. $70,000
Dr. Steven Boyd ,
University of Calgary
Using data gathered for Canadian ISS study TBone, the team will study bone loss in space and subsequent regaining of bone structures after astronauts return to Earth. Although some bone mass is recovered after returning to Earth, the bone structure may permanently change. $70,000
Dr. Simon Duchesne,
Université Laval
Changes to sensation, movement, coordination, and reasoning during space missions can affect an astronaut's performance. The team will analyze images of astronauts' brains to track how brain health is affected by spaceflight, using methods similar to those used to track aging in terrestrial populations. Results of this study could aid patients affected by brain degeneration such as Alzheimer's disease. $70,000

Using research models, scientists can test their ideas on model organisms such as yeast, rodents, and tissue samples exposed to various aspects of the space environment, here on Earth. This type of research can help prepare for missions to deep-space destinations and could improve the quality of life on Earth.

Six grants using research models are awarded to:

Table 2
Researcher and institution Study topic Grant amount (Canadian dollars)
Dr. David Alexander MacLean,
Northern Ontario School of Medicine
The team will use a model that simulates spaceflight to understand the combined effects of radiation and microgravity on tissues like muscles, bones, eyes and the brain. They will also test whether dietary supplements can be used to counteract the effects of damage to healthy tissues. $150,000
Dr. Rachel Holden,
Queen's University
This team will investigate the role of dietary phosphate in bone loss in rodents and whether males and females are affected differently. This study could help shed light on optimizing astronauts' diets and have implications for people on Earth at risk of bone loss. $149,975
Dr. Bernard Jasmin,
University of Ottawa
As muscles weaken, they get tired more quickly and are more fragile. The team will focus on understanding how muscles lose their size and strength in space, specifically looking at the role of protein Staufen1, and test therapeutic inventions that could be used to counteract muscle atrophy. $150,000
Dr. Val Fajardo,
Brock University
The team will determine if inhibiting the activity of an enzyme (glycogen synthase kinase 3) will slow the decline of muscles, bone strength and cognitive awareness. $150,000
Dr. Matthew D. Regan,
Université de Montréal
The team will examine whether resistance to muscle deterioration observed in hibernating mammals could inform how humans conserve and build muscle protein during spaceflight. $149,040
Dr. Bettina M. Willie,
McGill University
This team aims to use mouse models to understand the relationship between night-day cycles, muscle use and bone loss. $150,000

Reducing health risks is critical for long-duration space missions. These studies hope to improve the understanding of the effects of space on the human body and the development of mitigation techniques that can help support the well-being of people in space and on Earth.

International Space Station to benefit from Cygnus resupply run

Canadarm2 captures Cygnus during a previous resupply mission

Canadarm2 captures Cygnus during a previous resupply mission. (Credit: NASA)

On , Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft will launch aboard an Antares rocket from NASA facilities on Wallops Island, Virginia. This launch will mark the start of the 17th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for Cygnus. The vehicle will carry scientific research, crew supplies, and hardware to support on-orbit operations.

Components for the Canadian Bio-Monitor will be onboard the cargo vessel. The hardware will aid in calibrating the smart shirt system designed to monitor astronaut health. Additional equipment includes a Camera/Light Assembly for Canadian ISS robotics, Canadarm2 and Dextre.

Two days later, NASA astronauts Raja Chari and Kayla Barron will perform a cosmic catch using Canadarm2 to capture the unpiloted vehicle.

Coverage of the launch will be broadcast on NASA TV on beginning at 12:15 pm ET (launch scheduled for 12:40 pm ET).

Capture operations will also be broadcast on beginning at 3:00 am ET (capture scheduled to take place around 4:35 am ET).

Canadian scientists looking to better understand the effects of space on astronauts' bodies

Bedrest study

A volunteer participates in an inactivity study by lying in an inclined bed. Remaining in bed for an extended period of time mimics some of the conditions of the space environment. (Credit: DLR)

The Canadian Space Agency is supporting the participation of Canadian researchers to help shed light on how long-duration space flights affect astronauts' health. The twist? These scientists are taking part in experiments that simulate space – right here on Earth.

The grants support a series of bedrest and dry-immersion experiments, in collaboration with the European Space Agency. Both types of experiments create conditions similar to the weightlessness of space, including a shift of fluids toward the head.

As part of bedrest studies, volunteers stay in bed for several weeks without a break, with their heads angled six degrees lower than the rest of their bodies. They eat, sleep, exercise, shower and conduct all other daily activities in this position. This protocol mimics the microgravity environment of space and causes the body to produce many of the same changes.

Six grants awarded are:

Table 3
Researcher and institution Location Study topic

Dr. Andrew Blaber (Co-Investigator),
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

Planica, Slovenia

The team will examine the physiology of blood clotting with volunteers in a 60-day bedrest study to simulate the weightlessness of spaceflight. This information will help us better understand venous clotting in astronauts and patients confined to bed.

Dr. Guy Trudel (Principal Investigator), Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ontario

Planica, Slovenia

The study will deliver novel and pertinent data on anemia, hemolysis, young, mature and senescent red blood cell populations and spleen changes in 24 participants before, during and after head-down tilt bedrest, with artificial gravity and physical countermeasures in hypoxia.

Dr. Guy Trudel (Co-Investigator), Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ontario

Planica, Slovenia

The team will test the effectiveness of artificial gravity (AG) and its combination with bike ergometer exercise on several musculoskeletal endpoints compared to controls and previous AG and non-AG countermeasures. Findings will lead to a deeper understanding of microgravity‐induced musculoskeletal changes.

Dr. Guy Trudel (Co-Investigator), Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ontario

MEDES, France

The team will test the effectiveness of artificial gravity (AG) and its combination with resistive vibration exercise on several musculoskeletal endpoints compared to controls and previous AG and non-AG countermeasures. Findings will help better understand microgravity‐induced musculoskeletal changes.

Dr. Richard Hughson (Co-Investigator), University of Waterloo

MEDES, France

In this 60-day study, the team will test the effectiveness of artificial gravity generated on a large centrifuge combined with exercise training as a countermeasure to a loss of cardiovascular fitness as seen during astronaut flights. Changes in blood volume and regulatory hormones will be monitored to see how they contribute to loss of cardiovascular fitness.

Dr. Richard Hughson (Co-Investigator), University of Waterloo

MEDES, France

As part of this 60-day study, simultaneous changes within the heart, blood vessels and skeleton in both men and women will be observed to help identify new and important avenues for future spaceflight and health-related research. Additionally, we will evaluate any beneficial effects of physical exercise and artificial gravity during bedrest that may limit the deleterious consequences of inactivity on the human body.

In dry-immersion studies, volunteers spend about five days floating in tanks of water. The water is kept at a constant, comfortable temperature and is covered with an elastic waterproof fabric to keep the volunteers dry. Only their heads remain outside the tank.

Two grants awarded are:

Table 2
Researcher and institution Location Study topic

Dr. Andrew Blaber (Co-Investigator), Simon Fraser University, British Columbia

MEDES, France

The team will examine the physiology of blood clotting in participants in dry-immersion tanks. This information will help better understand venous clotting in astronauts and hospitalized patients confined to bed.

Dr. Carolyn McGregor (Principal Investigator), University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Ontario

MEDES, France

The team will explore an innovative computing approach for autonomous health monitoring utilizing big data analytics in an all‐female crew.

These unique approaches to space science will help Canadian researchers learn more about how the body adapts to weightlessness, and will eventually help find countermeasures for long-duration space missions. All studies are expected to be completed by .

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