Research shows livers in space-traveling mice damaged.
A report from a team of researchers at the University of Colorado Anshutz Medical Campus is saying they have examined the livers of a group of mice that spend some time in space and they have found their livers have been damaged by the experience.
According to UPI, the mice were sent into space for 13 and a half days on the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis back in 2011. Upon their return, the organs from the mice were sent to various locations for analysis and research.
Lead researcher Karen Jonscher commented in a press release, “We saw the beginning of nascent liver damage in just 13.5 days. The mice also lost lean muscle mass. We have seen this same phenomenon in humans on bed rest — muscles atrophy and proteins break down into amino acids.”
The findings add to the concerns about the safety of humans on long space flights. Scientists have long monitored the effects of space travel on astronauts, but most studies have focused on the effects of a lack of gravity on bones, muscles and the brain, along with the cardiovascular system.
Earlier studies have also noted that some astronauts return from space with symptoms of pre-diabetes, but most of those symptoms resolve themselves after returning to Earth. This new discovery about the livers of the mice suggest there may be other issues that need to be evaluated as well.
More research will be necessary to confirm the findings, and scientists will need to reach a more complete understanding of the issues lengthy space travel may have on the human body. This information will be especially important before any trip to Mars can be undertaken.
The new findings also raise awareness that other internal organs may be also damaged in prolonged anti-gravity conditions.
Johnscher continued, “Whether or not this is a problem is an open question. We need to look at mice involved in longer duration space flight to see if there are compensatory mechanisms that come into play that might protect them from serious damage.”
Findings from the work of the research team can be found in the journal PLOS ONE.