Scientists have always been claiming that long deep-space flights could result in muscle and bone loss among astronauts, and this single factor has been worrying space agencies like NASA for years, as they are gearing up for the human Mars mission.
Meanwhile, the genetically engineered mighty mice retained their muscle and bone mass, and the mice that got the drug actually added mass.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers show that the Mighty Mice did indeed stay relatively mighty during their time in microgravity, while the normal control mice lost considerable muscle mass and bone density.
Jackson Lab officials say the month-long experiments might also lead to a better understanding of muscle degeneration in the elderly, or immobile patients. NASA astronauts Drew Morgan, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, who participated in the experiment while it was on the space station, are included as authors and investigators on the study. Earlier analysis discovered that in microgravity, astronauts can lose as much as 20% of their muscle mass in lower than two weeks.
This new study was led by Dr Se-Jin Lee of the Jackson Laboratory in CT. "These findings show that blocking the activities of these hormones does work to enhance both muscle and bone even when mice are unable to bear weight".
EMILY GERMAIN-LEE: That would be a miracle for a person either with primary bone disease, primary muscle disease or a combination. "Moreover, if we blocked myostatin in normal mice, we could get the muscle to grow even at the International Space Station", he said.
The SpaceX cargo vehicles are unique in that they can bring new materials and experiments to the space station and return to Earth 30 days later. The method utilized involves blocking a pair of proteins that typically limit muscle mass. Both are affiliated with the University of CT.
LEE: They lost a substantial amount of bone in space. Dr. Emily Germain-Lee of the University of CT says a human version of the drug could help both astronauts in space and millions of people on Earth.
The astonishing study suggests a way forward for preventing atrophy in astronauts on ever-extending space missions.
HAMILTON: Some of the mice were just along for the ride.
The doctors cited an example including Acceleron, a biotechnology company, which used its version of this receptor in clinical trials to treat patients with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But it sheds light on the fact that these receptors can block other things beyond myostatin.
The study has revealed new questions for the researchers. Interestingly, the BMD of these mice increased too, both in space and on the ground, and microCT analysis measuring bone volume and thickness confirmed the protective effect in microgravity. They also want to consider how to conduct further investigation on a future space mission. In addition, earthbound people with limited or no mobility already face debilitating muscle atrophy and bone fragility, underscoring the need for an effective way to maintain both muscle and bone mass, both here on earth as well as in space. "There's nonetheless loads of work that may must be achieved to develop remedies for people, however we consider that the sort of technique holds nice promise".