Have you ever wondered what it’s like to conduct biomedical research in microgravity? Every day, teams of engineers, scientists, and medical practitioners are taking on the challenges of working in the unique environments space offers with some amazing results. While the process of planning an experiment destined for implementation in orbit can be a lengthy one, research conducted in an alien environment can offer benefits that simply can’t be achieved in Earth-bound laboratories. The results of experiments undertaken in an environment that differs so much from our home planet frequently lead to new insights which can then be applied to Earth-based scientific efforts.
In the latest issue of IEEE PULSE, the flagship publication from the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, journalist Leslie Mertz takes us inside the International Space Station (ISS), provides a candid look at space-based biomedical research, and explores how it will help improve health for us here on Earth. Mertz explains how, in the microgravity of the ISS, biological systems act much differently than on Earth. Without gravity present, cell, tissue, and body system behaviors can be studied in ways that can’t be easily replicated elsewhere, but which have made significant strides in advancing our comprehension of medical afflictions.
It’s not surprising that Gregory H. Johnson, President of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) dubs the ISS “humankind’s greatest engineering achievement.” Its creation was no doubt an engineering feat in itself; additionally, it is emblematic of the many ways in which engineers work with scientists and medical practitioners to contribute to the greater good of humanity. Recent discoveries made upon the space station have translated to greater understanding of medical conditions such as bone-mass loss found in osteoporosis; protein-involved illnesses such as cystic fibrosis; spinal-cord injuries; and genetic diseases. Along with these scientific advances, space-based projects have also contributed to preventative medical technology in unprecedented ways: the diagnostic software used in mammography was originally designed as a temporary fix for the Hubble Space Telescope, while telemetry was created to monitor the crew of the Apollo space program in the 1970s.
Though the distance between Earth and the ISS can be difficult to comprehend, research conducted in space has a very close-to-home impact. It brings together a multi-disciplinary array of aerospace engineers, biomedical engineers, astrophysicists, biologists, astronauts, and medical practitioners for a common cause: solving medical queries that will eventually improve the quality of life for all humanity.
For more in-depth details on space-based biomedical research, read the full article on IEEE PULSE’s Web site.