As astronauts travel further and further into space, a comprehensive understanding of how changes in gravity affect them is crucial.
How does being in space change people? And how does being in space affect their medication?
These are some of the questions Professor Sara Eyal of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wants to answer.
Eyal sets up a space simulation lab at the university’s school of pharmacy to study how gravity (or lack thereof) in space affects drugs.
Working with an international, multidisciplinary team of 15 scientists, engineers, and researchers, she also develops experiments for use on SpaceIL’s mission, Beresheet 2, scheduled for launch in 2024 or 2025.
The space simulation lab is “the size of a printer,” Eyal tells ISRAEL21c. It can simulate the amount of gravity on the Moon, which is 1/6 the amount of gravity on Earth, and approximate gravity levels in space, generating gravity levels as low as 1/1000 of those on Earth .
Eyal’s team will use it to test various drugs that could be used on space missions.
“We’re researching to make sure the drugs are stable for the duration of spaceflight,” Eyal said. “Some drugs can decay faster in space.”
Diseases thrive in space
In previous spaceflights, astronauts took an average of 20 doses of different drugs per week.
Eyal explained that when astronauts start their careers, they are healthy, but they can develop illnesses the longer they stay in space.
“We know that space itself induces disease, accelerates aging, and alters the heart, brain, and other human tissues,” she explains.
“Almost all systems change in space. Some of the changes are temporary and some are long lasting.
The risk of long-term space travel is always great. “It can make you very sick,” she said.
The study of twins
Eyal cited the study of twin astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly that NASA did in 2017. Mark Kelly stayed on Earth for a year while Scott Kelly was aboard the International Space Station for the year.
In space, Scott Kelly developed a 25% narrowing in the left ventricle of his heart. His telomeres, the caps at the end of a line of chromosomes that protect DNA, have lengthened. NASA researchers believe spaceflight is associated with stress related to oxygen deprivation, increased inflammation and changes in nutrients that affect genes.
What happens when astronauts get sick in space? Eyal, who has worked at the University of Washington in the United States and the Swiss-Israeli company SpacePharma on space medicine projects, said that when an astronaut fell ill on the International Space Station, NASA was able to send her blood-thinning medication.
Astronauts from the ISS can be evacuated within 48 hours. However, in the next few years, if astronauts go to deeper space, for example to Mars, it would be a three-year commitment, and Eyal said: “you can’t evacuate people and you can’t send medicine “.
Researchers plan to include antibiotics, drugs to treat pain, drugs to treat motion sickness (“a common symptom among astronauts”) and psychiatric drugs that help maintain well-being in the experiment. psychology of the astronauts during their many hours of isolation.
The team is developing an instrument to detect each drug’s ‘fingerprint’, ‘the unique signal that each molecule generates when measured, which results in a waveform pattern that no other drug produces’ .
These fingerprints will be transmitted to Earth via Beresheet 2 “to determine what happens to drugs in space,” Eyal said.
His team includes Professor Virginia Wotring from the International Space University, who was NASA’s Chief Pharmacologist, as well as Professor Jan Jehlička from Charles University, Professor Peter Vandenabeele from Ghent University and Prof. Aharon Oren of the Hebrew University – all experts in Raman spectroscopy (the method of detecting a drug’s fingerprint in space); Tamar Stein, a Hebrew University astrochemist; and Prof. Ran Ginosar, Technion deep-space electronics expert and founder of Ramon.Space.
The miniaturized laboratory is developed by SpacePharma. The researchers coordinate all activities, and the integration of the laboratory into the Beresheet 2 orbiter, with SpaceIL engineers.
kidneys in space
“Everyone asks me if I’d like to go into space and I tell them, ‘No way,'” Eyal said. “Even a bus makes me sick.”
Eyal, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv, said as a child she used to pick flowers and leaves and make “medical solutions”.
She studied at the Hebrew University Faculty of Agriculture because she was interested in agriculture. She was interested in beekeeping because her husband, Yonatan, kept bees until she discovered she was allergic to bee stings.
She then changed direction and earned a doctorate in pharmacy from Hebrew University. She thought she would study anti-epileptic drugs during her sabbatical at the University of Washington.
However, his advisors told him, “’There has been a slight change. We are going to work with NASA and study kidneys in space.”
The Kidney Metabolism in Space Experiment launched to the ISS in 2019. Eyal was invited to watch the lift-off at NASA’s Florida launch pad.
“Once you see that, there’s no going back,” Eyal said. “I wanted to explore how these huge changes in environmental conditions affect the human body.”
Eyal says the lack of gravity “suddenly changes everything”, citing what happens to basic elements like fire and water in space.
Microgravity is the new frontier of research.
“I hope to develop my own technology for how to use microgravity to help people with diseases on Earth, possibly epilepsy,” Eyal said.
“My real passion is helping people. Maintaining the inhabitants of our planet is our first priority.
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