From blastoff to splashdown, astronauts are exposed to a withering array of health hazards—exposure to cosmic radiation, loss of muscle mass, and lowered immunity, to name a few. Yet much remains unknown about the long-term effects of space travel on humans.
In hopes of finding more answers, several University of Utah Health scientists, who happen to be U alums, are collaborating with NASA to launch an experiment to the International Space Station. The researchers will evaluate the effects of space travel on megakaryocytes—aka bone marrow cells—and platelets, which curb bleeding and help dampen the effect of infectious diseases.
The study is one of 10 space biology research projects selected by NASA in 2021. Such research poses more challenges than Earth-based studies, notes principal investigator Hans Schwertz MOH’19, an adjunct professor of family and preventive medicine at U of U Health who practices at the Billings Clinic in Bozeman, Montana.
“All the experiments must be precisely set up for space, which is a totally unforgiving environment,” he says. But the researchers say the unique study will provide vital information about how to protect space travelers. It could also have implications for health care on Earth.
“What we learn from this experiment could broaden our understanding of what role megakaryocytes and platelets have in inflammation, wound healing, immunity, and tissue regeneration,” says Matthew Rondina BS’98 MD’03 MS’12, professor of internal medicine and pathology at U of U Health and a study co-investigator. “This knowledge could potentially lead to new treatments for autoimmune diseases and other disorders.”