TBone: Effects of microgravity on bones
The Canadian TBone experiment uses new 3D imaging technology to study changes in astronauts' bone health caused by the time they spend in space.
Our bones constantly undergo a reshaping process in response to everyday use. On Earth, bones are optimized for working in gravity, the force they must work against to support our body weight.
Due to weightlessness and reduced exercise, more bone is being lost than replaced during extended space flight.
While adults past age 50 typically lose about 1% of their bone mass each year (a process that can eventually lead to osteoporosis), astronauts in space can lose up to 1.5% each month. Fortunately, much of this loss is reversed when astronauts return to Earth. TBone's scientists want to determine how this cycle of loss and regain affects the long-term strength and quality of bones.
Results from this research could help space travellers stay healthier during longer missions and could enable us to travel farther into space.
TBone - Effects of Microgravity on Bones with Astronaut Tim Peake
Using high-resolution imagery, TBone's researchers will:
- investigate how weightlessness in space flight changes the interior structure of bones
- understand how those changes reverse once astronauts return to Earth
- create a list of factors that could help doctors predict who is likely to experience greater bone loss and who is at higher risk of fractures
What we can learn in six months of space flight would take us a decade on Earth," says Dr. Steven Boyd, TBone's Principal Investigator.
TBone's results will give researchers a better understanding of diseases like osteoporosis, a bone loss disorder that affects approximately 10% of the Canadian population aged 40 and over. The findings of this study could help identify those who are prone to bone loss, and design individualized treatment strategies to predict and prevent fractures caused by low bone density.
How it works
Fifteen astronauts will participate in this study.
- Participants will undergo high-resolution 3D imaging of their wrists and ankles before and after their missions. This creates a comparative picture of the microscopic shapes and structures inside the bones.
- During their stay on the ISS, astronauts take blood and urine samples for many studies. The data from these tests is shared under an international agreement, and will be used for TBone to understand the cellular activities related to bone adaptation.
- Scientists also keep careful records about factors that could affect the results, such as food intake, medication, supplements, and exercise routine.
Human bones contain a honeycomb-like structure that helps give support and strength. When we walk, dance, play hockey, and enjoy other forms of exercise, the force required for us to work against gravity in order to carry our own body weight regenerates our bone tissue, and makes our skeletal system stronger. When we are less mobile, our bones lose density and strength.
The TBone team began collecting data in 2015. The research is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
- Dr. Steven Boyd, University of Calgary
- Dr. Paul Hulme, University of Calgary
- Dr. Anna-Maria Liphardt, German Sport University in Cologne, Germany
- Dr. Martina A. Heer, University of Bonn, Germany
- Dr. Jean Sibonga, NASA
- Dr. Scott M. Smith, NASA
- NASA video interview with Dr. Steven Boyd
- Calgary researcher leads international study on space flight bone loss
- What happens to bones in space?
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