24 Nov How can space research improve osteoporosis studies?
One of the crucial aspects of deep space exploration is facing the effects of microgravity on living organisms. In fact, it is known that the space environment causes a progressive loss of mass of the musculoskeletal system. On board of the International Space Station (ISS), the astronauts are taking the issues of osteoporosis very seriously! The Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti has stood up for the fight for bone health both in orbit and on earth, proposing awareness about the prevention of osteoporosis, especially for women in menopause. To overcome this problem, astronauts are subjected to a tight physical training program and they are forced to artificially integrate substances that slow down bone resorption as soon as possible. Even so, however, they develop bone embrittlement (e.g. osteopenia) which unfortunately evolves into osteoporosis, similar to that which develops on Earth. For this reason, in the space related life science community is growing the interest in the study of bone tissue engineering in simulated microgravity conditions in order to gain answers to this specific problem. One of the key aspects, from an engineering point of view, is the manufacturing of structures capable of supporting cells (called scaffolds) in order to realize a bioengineered living tissue in laboratory. To carry out cell cultures in conditions of weightlessness, or rather, of microgravity, there are specific instruments called microgravity simulators. In these bioreactors, biologists can perform cell cultures and thus obtain unique and valuable information on the biological dynamics that living beings undergo in weightlessness. The deep understanding of the mechanisms that cause osteoporosis can bring significant advantages not only in terms of space exploration, but also for the development of more effective therapies to treat osteopenia and osteoporosis here on the Earth.
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- Cazzaniga, Alessandra, Jeanette AM Maier, and Sara Castiglioni. “Impact of simulated microgravity on human bone stem cells: New hints for space medicine.” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 473.1 (2016): 181-186.