Space: a medical research environment

Elon Musk is planning to send two people to the moon next year. This has made headlines; but what’s going on in space right now in terms of research?

Via Mergeflow we discovered that there are several organizations from around the world that conduct research on diseases in space. As seen in the cluster below, the more researched topics are bone loss, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy and cancer. We looked at about 200 medical research publications that explicitely mentioned terms like “microgravity” or “international space station”. Let’s zoom in on some examples:

Diseases investigated in space

Bone loss

According to research conducted by the University of California and the University of San Diego, bone structure and function is shaped by gravity. Prolonged exposure to microgravity leads to 1-2% bone loss per month in crew members, compared to 1% bone loss per year in postmenopausal women. Since exercise countermeasures developed to date are ineffective in fighting bone loss in microgravity, they are investigating strategies to manipulate BMP (Basic Metabolic Profile) in microgravity to prevent bone loss. [read more]


Northwestern Polytechnical University has conducted research on Radix Dipsaci, a kidney tonifying herbal medicine with a long history of safe use for treatment of bone fractures and joint diseases in China. Treatments with RD have positive effects and they significantly prevent the reduction of bone volume fraction. [read more]

The University of Bonn and NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center investigated the hyper-resorptive state of bone brought on by spaceflight. This is important because loss of bone calcium can provoke fracture risk and increase long-term risk of osteoporosis. They found out that this can be countered pharmacologically, with nutritional support or through an exercise-induced increase in bone formation. [read more]

Muscle atrophy

Microgravity exposure is a main cause of skeletal muscle atrophy, which is induced through biological effects, including associations with reactive oxygen species. Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and neuroscience institutions in Italy such as the Neuroscience Insitute of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in Padua have put forth a a complete set of microgravity susceptible gene transcripts in soleus muscles of mice. These gene transcripts could serve as biomarkers or targets in the context of atropy conditions due to muscle disuse. Such types of atropy occur not only in space but also with bedridden patients on earth, for instance. [read more]

Yonsei University has tested the effect of Oenothera odorata root extract (EVP) on muscle atrophy. Using sciatic denervated mice, they discovered that EVP helped recover cell viability exposed to microgravity for 24 h and delayed muscle atrophy. [read more]


Otto-von-Guericke University Clinic, Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, and Aarhus University developed a new microscope (FLUMIAS) for fast live-cell imaging in space. As a proof of concept, they investigated cytoskeletal changes in FTC-133 cancer cells. [read more]

FLUMIAS microscope