Current Environmental, Food and Medication Research

Principal Investigator: Heather Allaway, Ph.D.

Research: Will use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives mitigate bone loss in female rats during simulated exploration class missions?

Mentor: Susan Bloomfield, Ph.D.
Institution:  Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
Start Date: Jan. 1, 2018             
End Date: Dec. 31, 2019
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Risk Of Early Onset Osteoporosis Due To Spaceflight (Osteo) 

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Principal Investigator: Lawrence David, Ph.D.

Research: Personalizing prebiotic therapies for astronauts' gut microbiota

Institution: Duke University, Durham N.C.
Start date: Oct. 1, 2017
End date: Sept. 30, 2019
Grant Mechanism: Single PI Grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Risk of Performance Decrement and Crew Illness due to an Inadequate Food System

Problem Addressed: Deep space missions will not be able to carry large amounts of payload (including food). Dietary carbohydrates nourish human gut bacterial communities (microbiota) that resist pathogens, regulate gastrointestinal physiology, and train the immune system. This project enables the reduction of food mass and improves astronauts gut’s microbiota.

Major Aim of Project: To develop a platform for individualizing prebiotic treatments that could be used to enhance gut bacterial metabolism in astronauts. Customizing prebiotic treatments would also minimize the amount of unused dietary carbohydrates ingested by astronauts, reducing spaceflight payloads.

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Principal Investigator: Barbara Demmig-Adams, Ph.D.

Research: Co-Optimization of Duckweed Biomass, Nutritional Quality & Input-Use Efficiency

Institution: University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, Co.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Food

Problem Addressed: On a mission to explore deep space, food will have to be stored for long periods, affecting texture and appearance as well as potentially decreasing nutrient content. The capability to produce fresh food to supplement stored food items would provide welcome texture, aroma, flavor, variety, and nutrients.

Major Aim of Project: This project evaluates small floating duckweeds as a multipurpose edible plant for spaceflight applications.

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Principal Investigator: Bonnie Dunbar, Ph.D.

Research: Retired Astronauts Medical Data Repository (RADAR): a Feasibility Project

Institution: Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
Start date: June 1, 2019
End date: May 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Focused Investigation Project

NASA Risk Addressed: Medical, Cancer, Degen /CVD

Major Aim of Project: Understanding long-term impacts of space exploration on human health requires tracking crewmember medical status well after retirement. Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health (LSAH) collects data on United States and Canadian crewmembers, but does not collect data on other international crewmembers. To reduce risk, the sample size must be enlarged. Retired Astronauts Medical Data Repository (RADAR) will investigate the feasibility for developing an international retired astronaut data base. The long-term goal of this work is to create a retired astronaut medical data repository housed at Texas A&M University-College Station to capture data that will otherwise be lost and to greatly increase the “n” for future research. Ultimately, data for all retired crew in this repository would be made available for use by qualified investigators to study the long-term health impact of exposure to the space environment in order to mitigate health risks for future crew.

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Principal Investigator: Michael Friedman, Ph.D.

Research: Genetic Variability in Microgravity-Induced Bone and Muscle Loss

Mentor: Henry Donahue, Ph.D. 
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.
Start Date: Jan. 1, 2019
End Date: Dec. 31, 2020
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Osteo

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Principal Investigator: Robert Jinkerson, Ph.D.

Research: Genetically Minimizing Non-Edible Portions of Plants for Space Flight Applications

Institution: University of California, Riverside, Riverside, Calif.
Start date: Jan. 1, 2019
End date: Dec. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Food

Problem Addressed: Plants on space expeditions can provide a fresh source of food and nutrients, carbon dioxide uptake capacity, and behavioral health benefits to crew members. Yet so far, variety of plants grown in space is limited. Increasing the diversity of plants suitable for space flight would increase nutritional opportunities and increase the diversity of fresh food options available for crew members.

Major Aim of Project: This project aims to develop space-friendly traits in a breed of tomato to increase production of small-sized, edible biomass.

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Principal Investigator: Robert Langer, Sc.D.

Research: Gastrointestinal devices for long-term in situ delivery of therapeutic microbes

Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.
Start date: Nov. 1, 2017
End date: Oct. 31, 2019
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Risk of Performance Decrement and Crew Illness due to an Inadequate Food System

Problem Addressed: Astronauts during spaceflight are generally not optimally nourished. Dietary intake tailored to the astronauts’ needs might be beneficial for their immune system function. This project builds upon previous findings from a Charles Stark Draper Prize recipient (Dr. Langer) that could be used to enhance immune and GI function.

Major Aim of Project: To develop a polymeric (plastic) device that is retained in the GI tract for an extended time interval (1+ years) to host, protect and administer genetically modified therapeutic microbes. It minimizes personnel, equipment and space requirements during spaceflight since it can be administered and quality checked during a pre-flight period.

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Principal Investigator: Felix Moser, Chief Scientific Officer

Research: Cell-free production of pharmaceutical-grade biologics

Company: Synlife, Inc.
Start date: May 1, 2019
End date: April 30, 2020
Study type: Ground study

Project: Biomolecules, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and metabolites, hold promise as treatments and diagnostic markers for a wide variety of diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.  However, generating the appropriate biomolecules currently requires numerous chemicals and cell-culture systems.  Synlife, Inc. proposed developing freeze-dried, cell-free extracts that can generate active biomolecules upon adding only water and DNA. Further, their kit would allow purification of these biomolecules to a level safe for human injection.  This system will be low cost, highly portable, and have a long shelf life.

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Principal Investigator: George Pantalos, Ph.D.

Research: Creating surgical capabilities for exploration space flight

Institution: University of Louisville, Louisville, Ky.
Start date: Oct. 1, 2017
End date: Sept. 30, 2019
Grant Mechanism: Single PI grant
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Medical

Problem Addressed: Due to the difficulty of resupply from Earth and the long communication delay during deep space missions, astronaut medical and surgical care will likely need to be autonomous. It is possible, that surgical procedures may be required to treat trauma or disease. This project enables the surgical capability to address such medical scenarios.

Major Aim of Project: To develop just-in-time surgical training, optimize the supply logistics of manifested versus 3D printed surgical instruments, and modify the NASA Robonaut 2 to add responsive movements for assistance during surgery. This project focuses on an example surgical procedure (appendicitis). Training material utilizing virtual or augmented reality will be developed and evaluated for effectiveness.

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Principal Investigator: Lawrence Pinsky, Ph.D.

Research: Feasibility Study for Potential Radiation Analog

Institution: University of Houston, Houston, Texas
Start Date: Jan. 1, 2019
End Date: Dec. 31, 2019
Study Type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Degen/ CVD

Project: Space travel exposes astronauts to high levels of radiation, which can increase the risk of developing cancer and other diseases.  One parameter of interest is the potential for “dose-rate” effects.  That is examining the potential effects of short-term chronic exposures to higher dose-rates may have unrecognized short-term, or even different long-term effects.  The Dose-Equivalent rates experienced within aircraft at nominal cruise altitudes in polar-regions is comparable to those that are experienced by astronauts onboard the ISS.  This offers the potential to use polar flights as a radiation analog “facility.”  While numerous simulations can estimate the expected dose rates, this project will demonstrate 1) the feasibility of deploying compact active radiation-monitoring devices that can measure the details of the actual time-dependent radiation environment in the immediate vicinity of the subject being studied, and 2) demonstrate that polar routes could potentially provide an analog laboratory to study the effects of exposure to Dose-Equivalent rates similar to space radiation.

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Principal Investigator: John Shepherd, Ph.D.

Research: Space-Feasible Body Composition and Body Shape Analysis for Long Duration Missions

Institution: University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii
Start date: Sept. 1, 2019
End date: Aug. 31, 2020
Grant Mechanism: Focused Investigation Project (FIP)
Study type: Ground study

NASA Risk Addressed: Medical

Project: The project aims to monitor frailty risk using 3D optical scans that have adjustments for fluid redistribution. 3DO models accurately estimate bone and body composition but lack space acclimation experience. The team will perform studies to select hardware, algorithms, and augment models with microgravity analogs, and  conclude with making a space-feasible prototype for microgravity testing during parabolic flights.

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