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Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist
May 13, 2013

Microflow cytometer (CSA) Microflow cytometer (CSA)
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(Highlights: week of April 29, 2013) - NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn completed the fourth and final Integrated Cardiovascular session aboard the International Space Station. The study aims to quantify the extent, time course and clinical significance of cardiac atrophy (decrease in the size of the heart muscle) associated with long-duration spaceflight, and identify the mechanisms of this atrophy and the functional consequences for crew members who spend extended periods of time in space. The information obtained from these experiments has relevance for patients after prolonged confinement to bed rest or chronic reduction in physical activity, as well as for patients with disease processes that alter cardiac stiffness such as congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease and normal aging.

Marshburn also completed the fourth and final Vessel Imaging session. This investigation evaluates the changes in central and peripheral blood vessel wall properties (thickness and compliance) and cross sectional areas of long-duration space station crew members during and after exposure to microgravity. By improving the understanding of the mechanisms behind changes to the cardiovascular system in space, more effective countermeasures can be developed - whether pharmacological, dietary or exercise-based - in order to alleviate such adverse effects and hence improve/maintain the health and performance of astronauts in orbit. In response to gravitational stress and exercise, human blood vessel diameters change. After spaceflight, it seems that vessels that normally should contract to maintain blood pressure do not perform as well as they did before the long-duration spaceflight. This research holds significance to similar conditions on Earth, as they are the same processes that occur in elderly patients. Findings from this experiment will help in improving and maintaining the health and the well-being of an elderly population, while providing insight into other cardiovascular conditions on Earth that encompass a similar impaired cardiovascular function.

The European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) belt was removed and replaced successfully for the Seedling Growth experiment. The facility was checked out and confirmed that it is ready to support operations. Seedling Growth studies the effects of microgravity on the growth of plants and is being performed aboard the space station in collaboration with the European Space Agency. Images of the plants will be captured and downlinked to Earth. Samples of the plants will be harvested and returned to Earth for scientific analysis. The results of this experiment can lead to information that will aid researchers in food production studies concerning future long-duration space missions, as well as data that will enhance crop production on Earth.

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, Expedition 35 commander, completed a post-operations checkout of the Microflow cytometer to assess the system's performance over its lifetime. The investigation provides the first performance test of a miniaturized flow cytometer in the microgravity environment of the space station. Flow cytometry is a technique that focuses fluids (blood or other body fluids) into a controlled stream that enables researchers to quantify the components, and monitor physiological and cellular activity. The goal of this testing in microgravity is the development of a smaller and safer operational instrument that may be certified for real-time medical care and monitoring during spaceflight. The project will lead to technology transfer and economic benefits through greater efficiency and flexibility in health care delivery and in agricultural support. Visit here for some examples. The versatility of a portable flow cytometer will help to reduce health care costs in isolated regions and northern territories. Data collected on-site through a portable cytometer will provide additional data in case of abdominal or chest pain, and ensure that patients are treated appropriately, while saving resources required for transportation of patients to distant clinical institutions for a blood test.

To learn more about Microflow, watch the video below:

Human research investigations continued for various crew members including Circadian Rhythms, Repository, Space Headaches, Spinal Ultrasound, Dietary Intake Can Predict and Protect Against Changes in Bone Metabolism During Spaceflight and Recovery (Pro K), and the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD).

Jorge Sotomayor, Lead Increment Scientist
Expedition 35/36

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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator