Trip to space could fix back pain

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A trip into space could help alleviate back pain and degenerative muscular diseases, British scientists hope.

Is the next frontier of medicine in orbit? British researchers say low gravity environments in space could be a new way of treating back pain and muscular diseases.

The research, which uses the low gravity (microgravity) environment of the International Space Station and other facilities that provide similar conditions to space, could also potentially benefit people who suffer from conditions such as muscle degeneration or back pain.

Space travel takes a toll on the bodies of astronauts. In microgravity their weight-bearing bones lose on average one per cent to 1.5 per cent of mineral density per month.

To counteract this, they currently need to exercise for two-and-a-half hours every day, take nutrient supplements, and consume high-protein diets to maintain muscle mass while in space. Without these interventions, astronauts could experience up to a 20 per cent loss of muscle mass on space flights lasting between five and 11 days.

The five new projects, set to receive a share of £440,000 of UK Space Agency funding, will support much longer space missions needed to explore the Moon and further afield. They include an initiative from Manchester Metropolitan University to study the prolonged effects of isolation on physical and psychological health, and a research project from Northumbria University to investigate the relationship between microgravity, back pain and spinal health.

Science Minister George Freeman said: “Our space science is about cutting-edge life science as well as rocketry and satellites: the UK is at the heart of state-of-the-art biomedical monitoring, providing huge potential insights into human health. For example, the way astronauts’ eyesight deteriorates in space and then repairs back on earth could provide powerful insights to help researchers at labs like Moorfields to understand eye health and potential new treatments.

“This research could allow astronauts to safely embark on longer and more challenging missions, for the benefit of us all.”

British ESA astronaut Tim Peake added, “It’s exciting to see this cutting-edge research taking place here in the UK.

“We can learn so much about the human body from spaceflight, especially the ageing process. This research could enable astronauts to carry out longer missions and explore further into space, whilst benefiting everyone on Earth.”


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