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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 5:14 EDT

Returning Astronauts Provide Clues On Microgravity’s Impact On Blood Pressure

October 26, 2012
Image Caption: NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, exercises on the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Scientists reported in the FASEB Journal that they have determined a major cause of astronauts experiencing low blood pressure after returning to Earth from space.

The report solves the biological mystery of how this happens by showing that low gravity compromises the ability of arteries and veins to contract normally.

Prevention and treatment strategies developed for astronauts may also hold promise for elderly populations on Earth who experience orthostatic hypotension more than any other age group.

“The idea of space exploration has been tantalizing the imagination of humans since our early existence,” said Michael D. Delp, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology, and the Center for Exercise Science at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. “As a scientist, I have had the opportunity to learn that there are many medical challenges associated with travel in a weightless environment, such as orthostatic hypotension, bone loss and the recently recognized visual impairment that occurs in astronauts.”

“Although I have come to realize that it is unlikely I will ever get to fulfill my childhood dream of flying in space, I take great satisfaction with helping in the discovery of how microgravity alters the human body and how we can minimize these effects, so humans can safely explore the bounds of our universe.”

The team examined arteries and veins from mice housed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida with blood vessels from groups of mice flown on three of the last five space shuttle missions.

Not only did the team find that the mice experienced the equivalent of orthostatic hypotension in humans, but that it takes as many as four days in normal gravity before the condition is reversed.

“There has been considerable interest in sending humans to the moon, asteroids, and Mars,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “But, what we’re finding is that extended space missions have their own inherent risks above and beyond the obvious. If we ever hope to visit distant worlds for extended periods of time–or colonize them permanently–we’ve got to figure out how to mitigate the effects that low and no gravity has on the body. This report brings us an important step closer to doing just that.”


Source: Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online