April 6th, 2002

Lessons of Space Travel Could Help Disabled HealthScoutNews

What do astronauts and people in wheelchairs have in common? Bone loss. Bones, especially those in the lower spinal cord and legs, weaken without the force of gravity on the skeletal system. In space travelers and those with spinal cord injuries alike, the loss in bone can lead to fractures, says Dr. Jay Shapiro, bone loss team leader for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. However, a new drug may help slow or halt the decrease in bone density among astronauts and the wheelchair-bound. Shapiro and his colleagues are testing a medication called Zoledronate, part of a class of medications known as bisphosphonates that inhibit the activity of cells responsible for reabsorbing bone. Currently, bisphosphonates are used to slow bone loss in people with certain types of cancer.

January 30th, 2002

A Hard Landing for Some Space Travelers HealthScoutNews

When astronauts return to terra firma after weeks in space, they don’t need a throat-clogging pretzel to feel a little woozy. Many faint on the spot when they try to stand up for the first time back on Earth. The same thing happens to bedridden hospital patients who rise after being horizontal for days. Now, after an ambitious experiment aboard the Space Shuttle, researchers think they have a better idea of why astronauts — and the sick — hit the deck. The research is far from trivial. For men and women to travel to other planets, like Mars, “we have to understand what happens to the body,” Levine says.