'Mighty Mice' Experiment Aboard ISS Yields Hopeful Results Against Bone, Muscle Loss

Katie Ramirez
September 12, 2020

The researchers believe it is not only astronauts who will benefit from the study. Typically, astronauts experience muscle and bone loss while living in microgravity because the human body evolved with the constant pull of the Earth's gravity. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Maine astronaut Jessica Meir was one of the scientists who worked on the experiment aboard the I.S.S.

Jackson Lab officials say the month-long experiments might also lead to a better understanding of muscle degeneration in the elderly, or immobile patients. They came back to Earth in a SpaceX capsule in January - and Lee and his team studied them. A series of interesting molecules and pathways was also observed, and more genetically-enhanced mice could be sent into space to observe long-time effects.

These mice are just one of many groups of rodents that have flown on the space station over the years in the name of research.

Could Muscle and Bone Loss be Prevented? The researchers said during their stay on the space station, these mice kept their muscle mass. He and his team found a way to block a gene called myostatin that limits muscle growth.

Because some of these mice were genetically engineered to lack myostatin, they had twice the average muscle mass - hence, the nickname "mighty mice".

At the same time as the mice were aboard the ISS, similar groups were maintained here on the ground, in the same environmental conditions as the space station: everything was the same, except for the microgravity.

They quickly built up more muscle compared to the untreated ones. The drug also helped reverse muscle and bone loss in mice that were treated after they returned to earth.

The treatment dramatically increases the animals' muscular structure when they returned to Earth.

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"But that's how everything is when you go from mouse to human studies". "These findings show that blocking the activities of these hormones does work to enhance both muscle and bone even when mice are unable to bear weight".

The experiment was conducted by the research team of the Jackson Laboratory of CT under the leadership of Dr. Si-Jin Lee.

Lee's wife, Emily Germain-Lee of Connecticut Children's Medical Center, also took part in the study.

A regular mouse (left) and a Mighty Mouse.

Mutant mice spent a short period at the International Space Station and returned with ripped bodybuilder physiques.

The exercise countermeasures astronauts use, which include two hours of resistance training and cardiovascular workouts, may not always be possible during long-term spaceflight. Proteins that limited muscle weight in these mice was prevented with medication.

"The challenge moving forward will be to understand the reasons for this and other effects with the goal of figuring out how to modify these drugs to avoid such problems", the researchers said.

It is a significant obstacle facing future space exploration missions, including planned manned missions to Mars. And it could even help to develop new treatments for diseases such as osteoporosis, the gradual degradation of bone tissue, and spinal muscular atrophy here on Earth. "There is still a lot of work that would need to be done in this regard, but we believe that this type of strategy holds promise".

In the form of an injection, a cell signalling inhibitor could stop astronauts suffering from some of the worst physical effects of microgravity.

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